September 28, 2005

Progressive Christian "Path to Action" National Conference

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 6:44 pm

Update 10/2/05: A very interesting thread of comments has developed to this post. They are somewhat off-topic, but not really — they address the reason this conference is necessary at all. Take a look.

For close to a year I’ve been blogging about the progressive Christian voices in the US, people like Jim Wallis, E.J. Dionne, John Danforth, Patrick Mrotek and Amy Sullivan. For the most part, this has been a digital experience for me, reading the writings of these religious and political leaders, and posting my thoughts on my blog.

That is about to change. On October 13 through 15, these and many more progressive Christians will be gathering at the Path to Action National Conference 2005 in Washington D.C. It is sponsored by several Episcopal organizations, including a church in my neck of the woods, All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena.

Why is this conference important? Many of us have felt that we have been present at the birth of a new progressive Christian movement. However, this movement could easily be stillborn. To keep it growing, we need to organize and to act. This conference is an important step towards this end.

September 25, 2005

Christian Independents Party Platform

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 8:15 pm

Friend and former (and hopefully future??) blogger Lefty had a fanciful post early this year about the Christian Independent party in the US circa the year 2019. The picture she paints of a political party maintaining their independence from both Republicans and Democrats, but working for a more humane America, has stuck with me ever since.

Unlike parliamentary systems, I’m afraid that the US form of government preempts the formation of a sizable third party. Any time a third party gains some traction, it is coopted by one or the other major parties. Still, it’s an interesting idea to play around with. In that vein, here is my take on some elements of the platform of the Christian Independent party in the not-too-distant future.

Catching Up on Stories from the Past Few Weeks

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 6:40 pm

Here are some very important things I meant to blog about over the past few weeks, but somehow never got the time:

  • Bill Moyer, an eloquent and important Christian voice, gave a wonderful speech on the anniversary of 9/11.
  • The Gretna police, who became infamous for preventing hurricane victims from leaving New Orleans, arrested a 73 year old grandmother for taking her own food from her own car.
  • The heads of the “Big 5” mainline denominations in the U.S. (the ELCA, UMC, PCUSA, UCC and ECUSA) issued an open letter to Congress calling on them to halt the cutting of budget items serving the poor.

I feel better now. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I didn’t at least mention these items, even weeks after the fact.

September 15, 2005

Christian Morality is Not About Sex

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 10:25 pm

Melinda Henneberger at Newsweek has a column out on the (im)morality of conservatism and the failure of Democrats to confront it. If that name rings a bell, it may because of this column of hers from the election season last year that pointed out that conservatives’ politics drives their religious beliefs rather than the other way around. In this column, titled “Overturning the Gospels”, she returns to this theme:

We as a nation—a proudly, increasingly loudly Christian nation—have somehow convinced ourselves that the selfish choice is usually the moral one, too. (What a deal!) You know how this works: It’s wrong to help poor people because “handouts” reward dependency and thus hurt more than they help. So, do the right thing—that is, walk right on by—and by all means hang on to your hard-earned cash.

Thus do we deny the working poor a living wage, resent welfare recipients expected to live on a few hundred dollars a month, object to the whopping .16 percent of our GNP that goes to foreign aid—and still manage to feel virtuous about all of the above.

Which is how “Christian” morality got to be all about other people’s sex lives—and incredibly easy lifting compared to what Jesus actually asks of us. Defending traditional marriage? A breeze. Living in one? Less so. Telling gay people what they can’t do? Piece o’ cake. But responding to the wretched? Loving the unlovable? Forgiving the ever-so-occasionally annoying people you actually know? Hard work, as our president would say, and rather more of a stretch.

A lot of us are angry at our public officials just now, and rightly so. But we are complicit, too; top to bottom, we picked this government, which has certainly met our low expectations.

The Bush administration made deep and then still deeper cuts in antipoverty programs, and we liked that. (The genius of the whole Republican program, in fact, is that it not only offers tax cuts and morality, but tax cuts as morality…when Republicans play to both our better angels and our less altruistic ones, it’s not that tough a sell.)

Jesus calls us to follow him. When I listen for his call through the gospel accounts, I don’t hear him calling me to worry about others’ sex lives or whether I’m paying too much in taxes. I hear him calling me to give up my shirt as well as my cloak, to walk another mile, to turn the other cheek, to forgive and love those that least deserve it. I hear Jesus calling us to put love of God and neighbor before the letter of the Mosaic Law, and before the letter of what we might otherwise interpret as a Pauline Law.

Following a set of rules, when the rules are interpreted as Henneberger describes here, isn’t too hard. Following Jesus is really hard. He asks that we die to ourselves, pick up our cross and follow. I’d much rather save poor people from the scourge of dependency by cutting back on the safety net, and my marginal tax rate. But as Christians, we are called to something more.

September 11, 2005

Martin Luther and the Diet of Coke

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 2:14 pm

A post from Real Live Preacher about his imaginary conversation with Martin Luther (hat tip to Lutheran Seminary Life). Here is the part that had me laughing out loud:

Then I had a great idea.

“Hey man, SAY it!”

“Say what?”

“You knoooow” I say, dragging it out enticingly.

“Oh very well. I suppose you’ll pester me until I do.”

Martin Luther clears his throat and lifts an arm, affecting the posture of an old fashioned orator.

“Here I stand. I can do no other!”

“YES!” I shout, pumping my fist like Tiger Woods does when he sinks a long putt.

Read the whole thing — the moral commentary on our times at the end is right on target. This is what our era will be remembered for, not all the other usual targets of Christian right ire.

September 9, 2005

Katrina: Blame The Victims!

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 9:30 pm

Via The Parish, a rant against those who blame the victims for not having the good manners to evacuate before, or to at least expire quietly after, Katrina.

I watched you as you held hands with your tablemates at the restaurant where we both ate this afternoon. I listened as you prayed, and thanked God for the food you were about to eat, and for your own safety, several hundred miles away from the unfolding catastrophe in New Orleans.

You blessed your chimichanga in the name of Jesus Christ, and then proceeded to spend the better part of your meal–and mine, since I was too near your table to avoid hearing every word–morally scolding the people of that devastated city, heaping scorn on them for not heeding the warnings to leave before disaster struck. Then you attacked them–all of them, without distinction it seemed–for the behavior of a relative handful: those who have looted items like guns, or big screen TVs.

She then added that police should shoot the looters, and should have done so from the beginning, so as to send a message to the rest that theft would not be tolerated. You, who had just thanked Jesus for your chips and guacamole, said you agreed. They should be shot. Praise the Lord.

Your God is one with whom I am not familiar.

Just shows you what kind of a Christian I am. I generally don’t say grace before a meal in a restaurant, and I’m against shooting people without a trial for petty theft.

Katrina: No Room In The Gretna Inn

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 7:54 pm

Update 9-15-05: Father Jake has a post at the Christian Alliance for Progress with links to more eye-witness accounts, corroboration from the Gretna police and media reports of this incident. I’m afraid though, for those denying that this ever happened, no amount of evidence will ever be enough.

There are many things that happened during the aftermath of Katrina that leave me both angry and depressed, but this really tops them all. From the Washington Times (via Political Animal, the in-house blog of the Washington Monthly), is this:

Police from surrounding jurisdictions shut down several access points to one of the only ways out of New Orleans last week, effectively trapping victims of Hurricane Katrina in the flooded and devastated city.

An eyewitness account from two San Francisco paramedics posted on an internet site for Emergency Medical Services specialists says, “Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the city on foot.”

“We shut down the bridge,” Arthur Lawson, chief of the City of Gretna Police Department, confirmed to United Press International, adding that his jurisdiction had been “a closed and secure location” since before the storm hit.

“If we had opened the bridge, our city would have looked like New Orleans does now: looted, burned and pillaged.”

But — in an example of the chaos that continued to beset survivors of the storm long after it had passed — even as Lawson’s men were closing the bridge, authorities in New Orleans were telling people that it was only way out of the city.

“The only way people can leave the city of New Orleans is to get on (the) Crescent City Connection … authorities said,” reads a Tuesday morning posting on the Web site of the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, which kept reporting through the storm and the ruinous flooding that followed.

As they made their way to the bridge in order to leave the city “armed Gretna sheriffs (sic) formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads.”

Members of the group nonetheless approached the police lines, and “questioned why we couldn’t cross the bridge … They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City.

“These were code words,” the paramedics wrote, “for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.”

It reminds me of the morality police that prevented school girls from escaping a blazing fire in Saudi Arabia because they weren’t properly covered. Only in this case, it was a desire to protect property, not modesty.

So it turns out that Bush is right, at least in this case — the local officials were to blame.

Here’s an idea — it’s time for a protest march, once things are opened up again, over the Crescent City Connection bridge and into Gretna. With lots of media there. And let’s see if the Gretna police try to stop them this time.

September 7, 2005

California Passes Gay Marriage Bill

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 5:18 pm

Update 9-8-05: Schwarzenegger will veto the bill “out of respect for the will of the people”. The irony is too much. Also, the Left Angeles Times has an editorial in favor of gay marriage predicting the California courts will join the legislature in legalizing it.

Who would have thought in March 2000, after California voters passed a Defense of Marriage proposition by a vote of 61% to 39%, that five years later the state legislature would pass a bill to legalize gay marriage by a vote of 41 to 35? But miracles happen.

Apparently this progress for gay rights has a couple causes. First, public opinion has changed. A recent poll shows California voters are split 46% to 46% on gay marriage, a substantial shift from five years ago. Secondly though, I think that gerrymandering, a practice that I loath, has helped as well. I bet that most Democratic districts are for gay marriage, but not by a wide margin. Even in Democratic districts where the voters oppose gay marriage, it won’t swing many votes to the Republicans. These districts are probably pretty safe for Democrats even if support for gay rights is lukewarm.

However I imagine the Republican districts are overwhelmingly against gay marriage. Given that there are fewer Republican districts than Democratic ones, the numbers balance out state-wide to a tie. Thus a 50/50 state-wide split is not reflected in the state Senate and Assembly, where the majority Democrats felt safe passing the bill.

Next the bill goes on to Governor Schwarzenegger. While Arnold, who after all is part of the LA entertainment social crowd, probably would just as soon sign the bill. But he has hitched his political future to the Republican party. Schwarzenegger has said in the past that he is for civil unions, but not gay marriage, a reasonable compromise for a fiscal conservative/social liberal Republican. However, the legislature hasn’t given him a civil union bill, but a gay marriage bill. Politically, he has no choice but to veto. Of course I think it would be “fantastic”, as Arnold likes to say, if he voted his conscience, damned the political consequences, and signed the bill. But it’s not at all likely.

The other potential glitch is Proposition 22, which says “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The courts would have to decide whether the gay marriage legislation, even if signed by Schwarzenegger, would be preempted by Proposition 22.

But still, even though it won’t become law, this is such a great step forward! We are so close — if we had a Democrat governor, California would be the first state to legalize gay marriage via the legislature. (Massachusetts has legalized it via the courts, and Vermont and Connecticut have legalized civil unions via the legislature.)

It just seems that we are approaching a tipping point. People have seen gays getting married, and have realized that it looks pretty boring, and not all that different from any other marriage. People have realized that gay marriage is simply letting people marry whomever they want, instead of having government impose contraints on their freedom. There clearly is no victim from gay marriage. It is simply a question of fairness, of civil rights, and of freedom.

It won’t be long now.

September 5, 2005

Katrina: We Need Real Men

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 9:50 pm

I took a look at the Daou Report to see what some of the conservative bloggers had to say about Katrina, and I came across this post.

[T]here were two things that disturbed me nearly as much as the death, destruction and lawlessness. As a matter of fact, one could say that those two things were by-products of the lawlessness.

• I’m sure that I’m not the only one who noticed how many husband-less women and girls there were who had babies and children along with them.
• And I’m betting that I’m not the only one who cringed as more than one man near my dad’s age wailed plaintively about why no one was doing anything for them.

Back when I was growing up, real men took charge and made decisions. They protected women and children–especially their own children–and got them out of harm’s way; out of the way of things like hurricanes, especially when they had days of advance warning. And if they made the wrong decision, they tried to make things right and/or took the consequences. Like young Jabbar Gibson.

They didn’t expect someone else to be the protector—be the man—and then whine about how the substitute man wasn’t being the substitute man fast enough.

No one should wonder that gangs of thieves, terrorists, rapists and murderers plagued the refugees. Such are the rotten fruit of fatherless societies–societies with a dearth of real men.

Real men. That’s the ticket. We need real men in New Orleans. Here are some other things that real men don’t do.

Real men don’t make excuses

I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.

Real men don’t shift the blame.

Under the law, Chertoff said, state and local officials must direct initial emergency operations. “The federal government comes in and supports those officials,” he said.

Real men don’t cry.

The guy who runs this building I’m in, Emergency Management, he’s responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, “Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?” and he said, “Yeah, Mama, somebody’s coming to get you.” Somebody’s coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Friday… and she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night! [Sobbing] Nobody’s coming to get us. Nobody’s coming to get us. The Secretary has promised. Everybody’s promised. They’ve had press conferences. I’m sick of the press conferences. For god’s sakes, just shut up and send us somebody.

Real men don’t make more excuses.

The falsity of what the “senior Bush official” told the Post apparently turned out to be so patently obvious that before the day was out the Post issued a correction, noting Blanco’s declaration on the 26th.

Real men don’t turn away help.

When Wal-Mart sent three trailer trucks loaded with water, FEMA officials turned them away, he said. Agency workers prevented the Coast Guard from delivering 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel, and on Saturday they cut the parish’s emergency communications line, leading the sheriff to restore it and post armed guards to protect it from FEMA, Mr. Broussard said.

And lastly, real men (and women) don’t blame the victims of the worst natural disaster to hit this country ever because they are unable to rescue themselves, especially when these victims are those too poor to afford a car, travel expenses, hotels, etc.


September 4, 2005

Katrina: Budgets Are Moral Documents

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 6:41 am

From the Washington Monthly:

Mitigation budgets for New Orleans were slashed even though it was known to be one of the top three risks in the country. FEMA was deliberately downsized as part of the Bush administration’s conservative agenda to reduce the role of government. After DHS was created, FEMA’s preparation and planning functions were taken away.

Actions have consequences. No one could predict that a hurricane the size of Katrina would hit this year, but the slow federal response when it did happen was no accident. It was the result of four years of deliberate Republican policy and budget choices that favor ideology and partisan loyalty at the expense of operational competence.

Ideologies have consequences. Decisions on government spending, and taxation, are moral decisions, and they have consequences. The consequences can’t be “spun”, or dealt with by a day of photo opps.

The Bush administration dramatically cut taxes while increasing spending on the Iraq War. Bush promised to cut the deficit in half in four years, while Congress funds a project to build a bridge to nowhere.

Meanwhile, the levees in New Orleans were neglected.

What other New Orleans are out there waiting to happen?

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