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These aren't your father's evangelicals: 8-31-18

Here's more evidence that labels -- including religious labels -- hide more than they reveal.

Bills-BiblesThis New Yorker piece reports that an important shift is occurring among young people who identify as evangelical Christians. They are less and less like their parents, both theologically and politically (assuming their parents also are evangelicals).

So when we think of all evangelicals as dedicated Trump voters, as biblical inerrantists, as rabid pro-lifers, as anti-LGBTQ activists and on and on, we are likely to get it wrong.

As the piece reports, ". . .many young evangelicals are more diverse, less nationalistic, and more heterodox in their views than older generations. Believing that being a Christian involves recognizing the sanctity of all human beings, they support Black Lives Matter and immigration reform, universal health care and reducing the number of abortions, rather than overturning Roe v. Wade."

And it doesn't stop there. Again, The New Yorker report: ". . .as their secular peers embrace more fluid identities in regard to sexuality and race, young evangelicals are also beginning to see such positions in shades of gray rather than in black and white. There are other factors, too, related to globalization: the exponential growth of fellow-believers in the Global South; the growing diversity of evangelicals in the U.S., driven in part by the influx of immigrants who arrive in American churches with their own dynamic faith. The result is that younger evangelicals are speaking out on issues like family separation at the border, climate change, police brutality, and immigration reform­­ – causes not typically associated with the evangelical movement."

As a Christian whose congregation is part of a Mainline denomination (Presbyterian), I find these developments encouraging. It means that more evangelicals are willing to see many issues in colors beyond black and white. And it means they are focusing on the way Jesus said his followers should live -- lovingly, compassionately, empathetically, mercifully.

So let's all be careful how we label people of faith. Sometimes labels are helpful, but often they blind us to reality.

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But speaking of some not-so-young evangelicals, you may have read about the dinner at the White House this week for President Trump's supporters who identify as Christian evangelicals. This RNS piece asks about what those who attended are giving up to be so close to power. The answer is two-fold: Plenty and others.

The width and depth of abuse scandals: 8-30-18

The world has been both appalled and fascinated by the ongoing scandal in the Catholic Church involving priests who sexually abused children and the bishops who protected those priests.

Religion-abuseIn his recent visit to Ireland, Pope Francis apologized for the church's tepid response to this human crisis even as he was attacked by a bishop who told him he should resign.

The whole story -- which has played out in the press now for decades, thanks to terrific work by The National Catholic Reporter (for which I write a column) and The Boston Globe -- is painful and disheartening.

But Catholics aren't the only religious group with an abuse problem. As I've written before, other traditions also have been faced with abusive behavior by clergy and educators. Sometimes leaders have responded well, but often not.

In the latter category, put the story of a respected Jewish educator, Stanley S. Rosenfeld, who now admits he molested young boys for decades, with very little adverse consequences to himself. And he apparently was able to move from job to job because very few people talked about his actions.

The Jewish newspaper, The Forward, has done this comprehensive story about Rosenfeld, whom a Forward reporter interviewed in the hospital and who confessed to a lifetime of abusive behavior.

Rosenfeld now is 86 years old and has had time to reflect on his illegal and immoral behavior. As the story to which I've linked you reports:

"He asked the purpose of the interview, and was told that it would be used for an article in the Forward, about his victims and the schools where he worked. He said he understood.

“'I can’t imagine that they knew, and continued to employ me, and make all my victims available to me,' he said. 'Of course, my head was always making excuses for what I was doing. Finding positive reasons for it. But I always knew that it was wrong. I always did.'”

But, of course, he kept doing it, injuring person after person.

One important thing to note about this particular story: Rosenfeld identifies himself as a gay man. But there is no reason to believe that gay people are more likely to abuse children than straight men. In fact, research has shown that most men who abuse small boys are not gay.

One more thing on this subject: I often hear people call abusive Catholic priests "pedophiles." Some no doubt are. But pedophilia is defined as a sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children. By contrast, most of the abuse that now-resigned Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been accused of related to young men in seminary.

In the end, the point of publicizing all of these sad stories is to remind everyone to keep all children safe. And to listen to the children when they complain about some uncomfortable behavior toward them but also to give those accused a fair hearing, for not everyone accused is guilty. Nor is everyone who is accused from the same religious tradition.

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I like what Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin has to say in this post about how we have been honoring the late Sen. John McCain: Often it's with an unnecessary disclaimer that we didn't agree with him about everything. At the time of death, there's no immediate need for us to do anything but honor the good a man like McCain did. Leave it to the historians to describe where he messed up and what he got right.

Will the U.S. Space Force be ordained? 8-29-18

As most of you know, President Trump, via Vice President Pence (pictured here), recently proposed that the United States create a separate military branch called the Space Force.

Pence-spaceThe apparent thinking is that the U.S. should secure itself from attacks by other Earth-bound countries using space technology, that the U.S. should command the cosmos and that if the U.S. is attacked by aliens from, say, the planet Tralfamadore, we should have a military force that can respond effectively.

But something else is also at play, as this Atlantic story makes clear. And that something else is the evangelical Christian theology of Mike Pence, who has become the administration's point person on space.

". . .when Pence speaks of space exploration," the story notes, "he speaks not only of the frontier, but of faith. His speeches sometimes sound more like sermons."

It offers several examples, which you can read for yourself. The Atlantic piece then adds: "No leader before Pence has injected this much religious rhetoric into speeches about the space program, according to space historians. Which makes sense, since Pence is an Irish Catholic turned evangelical Christian, and outspokenly so. Pence has a long record of presenting his political beliefs in the context of his religious ones; even before he was elected to any office, Pence liked to say he was 'a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.' As a congressman, he cited scripture to explain his votes and prayed with his staffers."

I find nothing wrong with the idea of politicians grounding their approach to policies in their own understanding of faith. Indeed, faith often is what motivates individuals to do public service. But it's not the job of any politician to try to get the people to adopt his or her approach to religion. That's what I worry about when it comes to Pence and space and the so-far unsold idea of a Space Force.

National space policy should be rooted in such concerns as national security and adding to humankind's store of knowledge. It should not be based on this or that politician's particular understanding of religion.

So as this Space Force idea begins to move forward -- if it does -- let's make sure that our elected officials are asking the right questions and justifying its existence not on religious concepts but on good science.

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You hear it a lot these days: religion is dying and the world is becoming more secular. Well, hold on. As this piece from The Guardian notes, 84 percent of the people in the world identify with one religion or another. Not only that, but people of faith tend to be younger and of child-bearing age, so they have more kids than those with no religious affiliation. It's true that in the U.S. and elsewhere the "nones," meaning the religious unaffiliated, make up a growing number, but most of those folks are not atheists. Rather, they have their own religious beliefs but simply aren't attached to an institutional form of religion. And, yes, attachment to religion is shrinking in North America and Europe, but it's growing almost everywhere else.

What Hindu and American nationalists have in common: 8-28-18

Even when I lived in India in 1956 and 1957 as a boy, I admired the way Hindus and Muslims there generally seemed to get along, despite the brutal violence between adherents of the two religions when independence and partition (into India and Pakistan) occurred in 1947.

T-784Indeed, my family lived on the campus of what then was called the Allahabad Agriculture Institute (it's now named the Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences after its founder), next to a Muslim village named Mahewa. Those Muslim children often played with Hindu and Christian children on the campus, and from what this 12-year-old could tell there wasn't a lot of religious animus.

But in recent years something distressing and even disgraceful has been happening to India. Hindu-Muslim relations have deteriorated badly, led by politically rigid Hindu nationalist parties, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which now dominates Indian politics.

This Harper's Magazine story tells part of that story and makes it clear what can happen when nationalist and religiously conservative politicians come to power and do whatever it takes to keep it, including stirring up the populace over divisive or phony issues. (Do you think there might be a lesson here for American voters? We'll get to that.)

Here's some of India's religious-political background reported in the piece:

"Hindus make up about 80 percent of the Indian population, and for many, the cow is sacred. This holiness is popularly held as age-old and eternal, though it may be of more recent vintage. . .literature suggests that this practice (sacrificing cows and eating beef) may have continued until as late as the nineteenth century. . .

"Gradually, the cow became inviolable. For many Hindus today, especially in North India (where the Harper's story is set and where my family lived), to eat beef is to be dharam bhrast -- to lose one's religion."

But once the "Hindu right," including the BJP, started winning elections in the 1990s "by promising development on the one hand and a 'return' to Hindu supremacy on the other (Tammeus note: Think "Make India Great Again"), the fig leaves have fallen away. BJP governments have tried to make the history of Hindu Indian beef-eating practices disappear, for example by removing mention of them from the syllabus of the National Council of Educational Research and Training, which designs school curricula."

So what is all this beef controversy about?

The Harper's piece again: "For groups like the BJP, the Hindu awakening cannot be complete without Muslim repression." That has been increasingly true since late 1992, when "150,000 members of various Hindu fundamentalist groups gathered in Ayodhya, home to a famous mosque built in the sixteenth century by the Mughal emperor Babur. Hindus consider Ayodhya the birthplace of Lord Ram, and for fundamentalists, a mosque on sacred land was an affront. Egged on by hate-filled speeches, they demolished the mosque's dome. Hindu-Muslim riots followed."

Perhaps you, too, can see the parallels between the ruling Hindu nationalists movement in India and the ruling American nationalist movement in the U.S. Ayodhya doesn't exactly equal Charlottesville, but there are disheartening resemblances.

In the end, these parallels lead to both countries being disgraced in the eyes of the world. Though, of course, there is so much disgraceful religious and political activity going on in the rest of the world that it's hard for all such egregious behavior to get noticed. But it can't go under the world's radar forever. And there are clear signs now that it's not.

(The photo here today is one my father took in India when we lived there. He used to joke that Mobil Oil didn't believe in its own product, preferring to hire some of India's sacred cattle to move its tanks.)

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If you've been wondering how Catholic Ireland is as you've followed reports of Pope Francis visiting there this past weekend, perhaps this piece from The Economist will help. The people of Ireland are far less committed to the Catholic Church than they were a generation ago, despite the magnetism of this pope.

How the 'Doctrine of Discovery' shaped the U.S.: 8-27-18

Some years ago when I first learned about the "Doctrine of Discovery," I was appalled, though not surprised.

Doctrine-discoveryThis is a doctrine first promoted by the Catholic Church -- and later by much of Christianity -- that, as this RNS story notes, "justifies the discovery and domination by European Christians of lands already inhabited by indigenous peoples." (The image here today shows the 1493 papal bull that promulgated the doctrine.)

It was the theological excuse that Europeans used to run Native Americans off the land and that justified taking "Native American children from their homes to attend boarding schools operated under the motto 'kill the Indian, save the man,'” as RNS reports.

Around the country today various branches of the church are making statements denouncing the old Doctrine of Discovery and then trying to figure out what it means that in many cases their own church buildings occupy land once stolen from Native Americans.

The RNS story details some of those efforts, including some by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. A gathering of ELCA missionaries this summer in my hometown of Woodstock, Ill., looked at the whole issue. (It seems both odd and cool to see a long story on a matter of religion carry a Woodstock dateline, as this one does.)

Well, repudiating the arrogant, colonialist Doctrine of Discovery is a good thing to do, but then what?

Is it possible in any meaningful way to restore sovereignty to native peoples in the U.S.? What might that look like? The extreme options -- dissolving the U.S. and turning everything back to Native Americans -- may not be the only options. Is it possible that we could just start with repentance and then enter into long and deep conversations with these tribes -- or what's left of them -- to determine a practical and respectful way forward for everyone?

I don't have answers to these and similar questions, but I do know they are worth talking about. And I do know that by middle school every American child school know what the Doctrine of Discovery is and how it helped shape the nation. Let's at least start there.

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As was true of his politics, the late Sen. John McCain had a bit of the maverick in him when it came to religion, too. This RNS piece gives us a pretty good picture of this Christian man who had several faith influences in his life.

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P.S.: My latest Flatland column, in which I update readers on the remarkable changes in the life of Mindy Corporan, now is online here.

The role of faithful resilience in the Trump era: 8-25/26-18

In this weekend's post, I'm going to try something quite difficult, but I hope not impossible. I'm going to try to connect the disintegrating Trump presidency to the obligations and sense of responsibility for which people of faith understand themselves to be accountable.

Abrahamic_religionsThe double-slam this past Tuesday of Michael Cohen's guilty pleas and the conviction on eight of 18 counts of Paul Manafort suggest that the corner into which Trump and his one-time allies have painted him is shrinking by the hour.

In this New Yorker column about all of that there's a phrase that I think is useful as we try now to imagine how Americans -- among the most religious people in the world -- are supposed to react to such an existential crisis of government. It's this: ". . .the institutions of American democracy are proving resilient in the face of Trump’s assault."

That resilience, I think, is a reflection -- perhaps indirect but important, nonetheless -- of the resilience that people of faith have demonstrated and incarnated for a long time.

Let's consider for now just the three Abrahamic faiths -- chronologically, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The Jewish people have been subject to several thousand years of oppression and bigotry, the most evil example of which is the Holocaust, in which Adolf Hitler's predatory Nazis almost achieved the goal of exterminating European Jewry. But the world's approximately 15 million Jews have not gone away, have not quit thinking of themselves as a people, have not stopped contributing to the world in marvelous ways that are far beyond what one might expect from them just looking at their numbers.

The Jewish people are nothing if not resilient.

What became Christianity once it separated from Judaism began with what seemed like a crushing defeat -- the death of the Messiah. But on Easter, the experience of the resurrection turned that around and followers of Jesus were energized (in fact, directed) to go into all the world and share the good news. Over history, there have been -- and continue to be -- times when Christians were a persecuted minority. Ask those who died at the hands of Roman emperors. Ask those today being persecuted in many countries around the world. But from a tiny band of followers in a small territory in the Middle East, Christianity has become the most populous religion in the world.

Christians are nothing if not resilient.

When the Prophet Muhammad introduced Islam to the Arabian peninsula in the Seventh Century, he at first had so much difficulty having his message accepted that he was forced to escape Mecca and set up camp in Medina. But eventually -- through a combination of persuasion, marriage and the sword -- he managed to spread Islam well beyond where it started. Islam, too, however, once established was challenged and beaten back in various ways, including in the Christian Crusades, and more recently by radicals who have brought a vicious kind of notoriety to the religion that its traditional observers don't deserve. And yet today Islam has grown to be the second most populous religion in the world.

Muslims are nothing if not resilient.

The American population today still is predominantly made up of Christians, but Muslims and Jews are important minorities who understand how faith helps create an expectation of resiliency even in the face of death, which people of faith are convinced does not have the last word.

So, yes, it's true that an important segment of American Christians -- those who identify as evangelical -- have lost their moral compass in the Trump era. And sometimes one almost despairs of them finding their way back to the values that they have so strongly espoused before being seduced by a xenophobic, misogynistic fabulist. But I have faith that many of them eventually will rebound and see the light.

People of faith who understand history know about the Salem Witch Trials. And they know that, in the end, they were wrong to accuse certain women of being witches. What they also know is that when Trump calls current efforts to identify criminal behavior and bring perpetrators to justice a "witch hunt," the president, once again, is operating in the wrong century.

It's time for people of faith to denounce such language and to trust in their own experience of resilience -- not because of secular history but because they understand such resilience to be of divine origin, even if they don't know quite how we will get from here to back on our collective feet.

* * *


Further evidence of the wide variety of theological approaches within Christianity can be found in a race for a seat in the Rhode Island General Assembly. A Catholic and a Baptist are running against each other and their differences are quite stark. Would you vote for either one?

A telling Jewish-Catholic story: 8-24-18

You may think that I'm going a bit off topic today just so that I can say something supportive about investigative journalism, a task we need more than ever today.

Reporter-hershAnd I will, indeed, urge you to read Seymour M. Hersh's fascinating new book, Reporter: A Memoir,because although Hersh can be quite egotistical he was and is a hell of a reporter who has broken so many important stories, starting with the My Lai massacre in Vietnam in the 1960s.

I'll get to all that in a minute.

But first I want to share with you a story Hersh tells on almost the last page of the book. I do so because I think it says something important about interfaith understanding and human relations -- and how far Christian-Jewish relations have come.

Hersh, who is Jewish, describes how, in the mid-1990s, when he was working on a book about President John F. Kennedy (The Dark Side of Camelot), he wrote to Cardinal John J. O'Connor of New York and asked to meet with him to talk about O'Connor's predecessor, Cardinal Francis Spellman, who was a good friend of JFK.

O'Connor and Hersh met and talked about many things, eventually using up more time than the cardinal had. Hersh writes:

"He asked me about reporting, and I asked about running a huge enterprise like the Catholic Church in New York. His secretary interrupted after forty-five minutes and again after an hour. He ignored her until she opened the door to the office and made it clear he was being rude. I got up to leave, and O'Connor walked me outside. It was a sunny, warm, early spring day, and as we approached the front door he threw an arm around me, pulled me close, and said, 'My son, God has put you on earth for a reason, and that is to do the kind of work you do, no matter how much it upsets others. It is your calling.' . . .I walked down Fifth Avenue blinking away tears, thinking that a belief as powerful as his was a profound and wonderful gift."

There was a time -- and not so long ago -- when it would have been extraordinarily rare for a Catholic leader (or Christian leader of any branch of the faith) to suggest to a Jew that God had placed him or her on earth for a good reason. Indeed, it wasn't until after World War II that Christianity began to move away decisively from its long history of anti-Judaism. (I describe that history in an essay to which I've just linked you.) In that long history it would not have been unusual to find people at O'Connor's level in the church saying publicly that God doesn't even listen to the prayers of Jews.

As I say, this touching story -- which manages to praise the teller, Hersh, as do many of his stories -- comes at the end of a fascinating book about how he wrote stories for many publications here and abroad, always turning up information no one else had, information the public needed if it were to understand its own government, its own economy, its own people.

He wrote a great deal about the savagely stupid war America fought in Vietnam, about the Watergate scandal, about the deviousness and duplicity of Henry Kissinger, about the blunders of our government's intelligence operations, about corporate greed, about chemical and biological warfare and more.

It's hard to imagine how much more ignorant Americans would be today without the revealing work Hersh did. So there's that.

And while reminding myself of such work over a period of time that coincided roughly with my own career in journalism, I found that story showing evidence that in many ways Christians today are much more respectful of Jews than they have been for most of 2,000 years. Christian-Jewish relations now are far from perfect and you still can find ugly bigotry. But things are better, as Hersh's story indicates.

* * *


Did you know that many superheroes also are people of faith? Well, at least this article says it will tell you all about what religion Batman, Captain America and others follow. Should you have faith in this information? I'm agnostic on that question.

Confronting Turkey over an imprisoned pastor: 8-23-18

The Reuters news agency published this story this week based on an exclusive interview that President Donald Trump granted to three of its correspondents (just prior to the conclusion of the Cohen and Manafort court cases).

BrunsonIn it, Reuters quoted the president as saying that Turkey's imprisonment of American pastor Andrew Brunson (pictured here) is sad and wrong: "I think they’re making a terrible mistake. There will be no concessions,” the president said.

Trump is right. He may be, in effect, an unindicted co-conspirator as of this week but at least he's right about the matter in Turkey. 

Brunson has been living in Turkey for more than 20 years. The link in this paragraph will take you to a somewhat-dated page on the site of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that will give you more details about Brunson and what appears to be his unfair arrest by the brutal regime of Turkey's strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Here is Wikipedia's entry on Brunson.)

Erdogan, with no convincing proof, has charged Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the U.S., with being the power behind an attempted coup in 2016. The coup failed, and since then Erdogan has demanded that the U.S. turn Gülen back over to Turkey.

I wrote about some of this in this Flatland column last year.

What none of us outside the U.S. government knows, of course, is whether Turkey is right that Brunson is a supporter of a terrorist organization and has committed political or military espionage. That possibility seems to me to be not just doubtful but outrageous, and yet pastors have done stranger things.

But that really isn't the point. Rather, the point is that the Ergodan regime has been committing human rights abuses and that whether Brunson is simply the innocent American pastor he seems to be or is somehow an American secret agent, the U.S. should do what it can to get him freed.

Trump is right that Turkey is making a terrible mistake by holding Brunson without due process. And he's right that we should not make any further concessions to Erdogan, already having arranged for Israel to free a Turkish prisoner there at Turkey's request.

But that doesn't mean Trump can do nothing. There are lots of quiet diplomatic options available to governments in such situations, including sending former presidents abroad to negotiate prisoner releases. That's been done several times in the past.

So Trump should maintain a stern front with Turkey even while seeking an alternative solution. Once we get Brunson back home we can determine whether he's an innocent pastor caught in international trouble or whether he is something else. The problem is that all this got more complicated this week when Trump became a president weakened by legal cases against people who once worked with and for him. Trump now may be much more focused on trying to stay in office than in trying to bring Andrew Brunson home.

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A rabbi who blogs for Religion News Service raises a good question in this post about why Israel has hired Christian evangelicals to teach the Bible to students in the West Bank. He asks: ". . .doesn’t the Israeli government realize that the Bible that the evangelicals will teach is different from the Bible that our young people should be learning?" I'd like to know the answer to that, too.

Pope confesses that the church is hypocritical: 8-22-18

I return again to the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church because I don't want the words of Pope Francis in a letter written to all the world's 1.2 billion Catholics to be lost in our 24-hour news cycles.

Pope-letter (2)You can read the whole letter for yourself at the story to which I've linked you in the first paragraph, but let's focus on these difficult words from the pontiff:

"The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced. But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity.

"The Lord heard that cry and once again showed us on which side he stands. Mary’s song is not mistaken and continues quietly to echo throughout history. For the Lord remembers the promise he made to our fathers: 'he has scattered the proud in their conceit; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty' (Lk 1:51-53). We feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite."

The quote from Mary, mother of Jesus, is found in what has come to be called The Magnificat. It is soaring Hebrew poetry in which Mary praises God and describes some core attributes of the divine. Among those is what theologians call God's preferential option for the poor. That is, God's heart aches for those in want, in need, in pain. And God is righteously indignant about more wealthy and powerful people who do nothing to aid those who have been hurt.

Hear what Pope Francis is admitting: The church itself not only did nothing to aid those injured in the abuse scandal, the church did the opposite -- it tried to cover things up and make it appear as if those injured were being untruthful.

It is a remarkable, if late, mea culpa. What the world waits to learn now, of course, is whether this pope can cleanse the filth out of the church and buttress (or create) the structures designed to prevent any more children from being injured. That will require some deep structural adjustments in the church, and all possibilities must be on the table, from a married priesthood to the ordination of women to an understanding among the people in the pews that they are the ones who hold power.

Good journalism from such outlets as The National Catholic Reporter and The Boston Globe has helped bring to light the debauchery in the priesthood and the evil collaboration of some bishops willing to protect abusive priests. What is required now are similar independent sources to make sure that these new words from the pope don't simply wilt on the vine but produce real change.

The pope's visit to Ireland this week may well provide evidence on whether the world should take his words seriously or whether they are just more empty words.

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Because of a pay wall, I can't give you the whole of this Christianity Today story about how the church in Puerto Rico was also affected by Hurricane Maria a year ago, but it's worth calling to mind the immeasurable suffering that American citizens there went through and to ask, a year later, whether there are measures we can take today to continue restoring Puerto Rico to health.

What is truth? In Christianity, truth is a person: 8-21-18

In one of the most memorable scenes in the New Testament, Pontius Pilate is interrogating Jesus. The 18th chapter of the Gospel of John records some of that exchange this way:

Truth"'So you are a king?' Pilate said.

"Jesus answered, 'You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice.'

"'What is truth?' Pilate asked.

Jesus here is not reported to have responded to Pilate's question, though earlier, in the 14th chapter, Jesus provides this answer: "I am the way, the truth and the life."

Which means that in what eventually became Christian doctrine, truth is not a dogma or a doctrine. Rather, truth is a person, Christ Jesus. And many of us Christians find that quite liberating. It means, among many other things, that no words can express the totality of truth.

I thought about all of this on Sunday when President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd of NBC News that "truth isn't truth."

As the Politico story to which I've linked you then reports, "A startled Todd answered: 'Truth isn’t truth?'

"Giuliani: 'No, no, no.'

"Todd said: 'This is going to become a bad meme.'"

Well, no doubt that's true, but if Giuliani had been speaking theologically, he might have been able to make a subtle, careful case for what it might mean to say that "truth isn't truth." Which is to say, he might have made the point I just made about how Christians view truth not as words but as the Word, Christ Jesus.

But, of course, Giuliani wasn't speaking theologically. He was, rather, speaking politically. And he was speaking the language of demagogues, the slippery language that has always characterized charlatans who are trying to pull innocent rabbits from guilty hats, all the while knowing that there are no innocent rabbits.

In the field of religion generally we find that truth is a difficult concept to catch and hold. Different religions make different truth claims. Sometimes they are competing truth claims. Those who want there to be only one Absolute Truth will reject the idea that a religion other than their own can embody anything true. And those who want complete freedom to decide what is true and what isn't on the basis of their own judgments will reject the idea that anything could be always and everywhere true.

It's the latter group for whom Giuliani was speaking on Sunday. But, in the end, the law insists that juries and judges are the best ones in our system to determine truths about legal matters. If Giuliani is rejecting that foundational concept, then anything goes. It sounded as if that's exactly what he was doing.

You'd think that even Donald Trump wouldn't want such a lawyer representing him. You'd think.

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A rift seems to be growing between American Jews and what this RNS piece calls Israel's "hard-line government." In the long run this could be bad news for Israel, which shouldn't be alienating its friends.