On how your childhood interpretation of the Bible can affect you well into middle age

 

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I’m a critic.

Well, I’m an opinion journalist. Which means my job is to give opinions. And that job can often mean telling people what’s wrong — and who is wrong — with the world. Donald Trump has been an unending inspiration for criticism for me, which probably won’t surprise you. This week, though, I narrowed my critique of him to a single facet of his personality — but one I think is particularly salient.

The man is an utter fool.

Here is what I wrote:

Forget impeachment. Forget the 25th Amendment. Is there no way the United States can rid itself of Donald Trump simply because he’s so unrelentingly foolish?

Trump’s puerile behavior over Greenland is particularly worth highlighting, if only because it throws into sharp relief the whole “emperor has no clothes” extremes of his presidency. The president’s actions, his fit of personal pique, do nothing to advance the interests of the United States. They do not make Americans safer or more prosperous. There is no rationale for them, beyond the president’s own thin skin. America’s foreign policy — and thus our security, and thus the security of the world itself —is being held hostage by a short-sighted, incurious narcissist.

This is not reasonable.

It was actually a big step for me to write “foolish.” I originally wrote that he’s simply a fool, but hesitated. Why? Scripture.

In the King James Version of the Bible, Matthew 5:22 reads:

But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his
brother without a cause shall be in danger of the
judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca,
shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall
say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

I took that very literally as a child. I was as capable of insulting another kid as any other kid. But I never used the word “fool.” I feared going to hell.

This week, I realized I’d spent a lifetime operating under that idea. Of course, the verse doesn’t condemn anger, really, but anger without a cause. It is warning us not to let anger control us. In that context, the warning against calling somebody a “fool” takes on a different meaning.

With Donald Trump, I have cause.

The funny thing is, even though I’ve rectified my understanding, it’s probably still the case that I’ll avoid using the “f” word too easily. It’s like finding out that the lyrics to Purple Haze are not “Scuse me while I kiss this guy.” You can find out the real lyrics, but you’ll never unhear what you spent a lifetime hearing.

Actually, the Babyon Bee *is* satire

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Here’s a Twitter thread arguing that The Babylon Bee, a conservative Christian satire site — think The Onion, but evangelical — isn’t really satire because some folks treat its jokes as real. Apparently, it led to a rupture in the relationship between the poster, Josh Raby, and his dad, who defended posting a BB piece as, well, real enough to accept as real.

Raby:

“This is why The Babylon Bee fails at “knowing their audience”. Because they know *who* they are, but they ignore every cultural force that makes them *them*. They lob jokes and close their eyes as to how they’ll land.

Their audience can not handle satire, because satire requires an understanding of the reality, and these people actively reject reality on a daily basis. Just like the president. Just like my dad.

Now: BB isn’t my cup of tea. (Having grown up among evangelicals, though, it does make me laugh sometimes.) And I don’t doubt the thread played out precisely as Raby describes it.

But. The Bee is satire. The fact that some people don’t understand that doesn’t make site somehow uniquely pernicious. It just means that some people are gullible, and some people are motivated to be gullible.

Google “Onion article mistaken for real news” and you get 2.7 million result. The first is this article documenting times when real news outlets like the New York Times and ESPN failed to spot a joke posting and passed along the fake news as real. Raby, somehow, isn’t arguing for the perniciousness of the Onion.

There’s always a tension with satire and an audience that can’t always read satire properly. That doesn’t mean satire isn’t satire. We should judge the Bee by the same standards we judge the Onion. And we should judge people who refuse to acknowledge reality on that basis, not satire-maker. Let’s judge others as generously as we judge ourselves.

A thing you may not know about Emmett Till

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The Jim Crow era of our nation isn’t ancient history. Today, I learned the Emmett Till murder case is still open — and, apparently, some key players are still alive.

I know this now because of some white Ole Miss students who posed with a memorial to Till … brandishing guns and smiling.

Emmett, who was 14 when he was killed in 1955, would have turned 78 on Thursday. The sign, which has been replaced multiple times after being vandalized, marks the spot along the Tallahatchie River where Emmett’s body was found after he was tortured and lynched. He had been accused of whistling at a white woman behind the counter of the grocery store where he went to buy candy. Last year, the cold case was quietly reopened by the Justice Department after the woman recanted parts of her story.

Emmett’s family said on Thursday that their resolve was even stronger after the episode.

“This is still an open murder case,” Ms. Watts said. “Damaging that sign is not going to deter me or other members of our family that are continuing to pursue justice.”

The past isn’t dead. It’s not even past.

The difference between white and Latino evangelicals

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You’ve probably heard this:

A Pew Research Center survey found that only 25 percent of white evangelicals in the U.S. said that the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country. The center first published the study last year, but recently tweeted a breakdown showing how answers vary along lines of race, age, education and religion.

“By more than two-to-one (68% to 25%), white evangelical Protestants say the U.S. does not have a responsibility to accept refugees,” the center wrote. “Other religious groups are more likely to say the U.S. does have this responsibility. And opinions among religiously unaffiliated adults are nearly the reverse of those of white evangelical Protestants: 65% say the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country, while just 31% say it does not.”

But this is new to me:

First-generation immigrants are leading the Latino evangelical expansion in the US—drawing in more unchurched believers and new converts than the average church plant, despite having smaller congregations, less funding, and tensions surrounding US immigration policy.

The Latino population is growing, especially in the South, where 59 percent of the 218 new congregations surveyed are located (half are Southern Baptist). And the evangelical faith is growing with it.

It is always the case that xenophobic folks miss out on opportunities. In the case of white evangelicals, they may be missing out on a chance to grow their faith community.

On Christianity Today and racism

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This is a good statement from Christianity Today:

White Christians have a long and lamentable history of silence (or worse) when people of color are under attack. On the one hand, I sense today an authentic desire among white Christians to build bridges of relationship and reconciliation with their friends and neighbors of other ethnicities.

On the other hand, I sense a profound frustration among non- white Christian friends that their white brethren keep silent as the president aims ugly and demeaning statements at people of color. These friends don’t like what the silence of the white church is saying, and neither do we.

“So let us not be silent” the editorial adds, and it’s good to see Christians challenge each other over racism in the Trump era.

The one problem: While CT speaks of the need to speak up and stand along non-white Christians, this editorial never quite gets around to directly challenging the president on these grounds. It suggests that doing so would be a good thing, but it mostly talks around the thing it’s about.

So while Christianity Today’s editorial is a good start, it’s not quite enough. If you’ve decided that somebody should speak truth to an about the president, there’s a good chance that somebody should be you.

That ‘Love it or leave it’ church

Welp:

Amid a national furor over President Donald Trump’s tweet urging four Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to their home countries, a Virginia pastor is gaining attention with a sign at his church saying “America: Love or Leave It.”

Pastor E.W. Lucas (said) Tuesday that he wanted to make a statement about the political divisions in Washington.

“People that feel hard about our president and want to down the president and down the country and everything, they ought to go over there and live in these other countries for a little while,” Lucas said.

Listen: We’re all tempted to interpret the Gospel in light of our own ideological predispositions. I certainly am.

All the same, a church that decides to greet the world with an “America: love it or leave it” sign is a church that is very confused — charitably speaking — about its mission in the world.

How do you cope with despair in the Age of Trump?

 

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Some news from around the world in the last day or so:

President Trump hosted a gathering of racists and conspiracy-mongers at the White House today so they can complain that they don’t get enough respect on social media.

It is reported that thousands of undocumented immigrants are being targeted in raids planned for this weekend.

• My old home state of Pennsylvania is cutting off cash assistance to the needy.

• My always-home state of Kansas is watching as the attorney general threatens to sue the governor to let some adults receive food assistance even if they haven’t met the program’s work requirements.

War with Iran seems a bit more inevitable every day.

It feel like my values are losing on every front in public life in favor of a war on truth, refugees and the poor. I feel despair. I imagine some of our readers are similarly discouraged.

I know I just wrote last week that Christians should have hope beyond the here and now, but you know what? It’s hard. Sometimes we need a little comfort.

I have a couple of ideas about how to combat the despair. But I would love to hear more.

On my list:

Walk away from the news once in awhile. That’s tough for a lot of us to do, especially if — like me — you work in news and news-adjacent businesses. But it’s not impossible. It’s good to take a day a week to unplug, especially from Twitter, and direct your energies to other things.

• Think global, act local: I’m increasingly convinced that any salvation we’re able to create from current circumstances will come in large part from working together in our communities for our values and against the forces that alarm us so. I have recently been doing some volunteer work for the first time in my life. It’s not enough. But it’s also a way of doing something positive, and it never fails to make me feel a bit more positive. It also helps to simply embrace real-world, non-online relationships.

Embrace what’s beautiful: I grew up in a generation that was cynical about beauty. That’s unfortunate. Find what inspires you — music, dance, the outdoors, art — and make sure some of your time is spent focusing on it. I’m not sure about the whole “beauty is truth, and truth, beauty” business, but I’m not sure it’s entirely wrong, either.

Make stuff. Don’t just consume. Even if you learn a new recipe to share with your family at dinner, that’s something.

I’m not always good at doing these things. I linger far too long in front of my computer. But when I take my own advice, my life is a little better. And that gives me the strength to fight for the values that I believe in.