Archive for May, 2010

Rejoice! (And Again I Say, Rejoice!)

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

This week has brought me news of profoundly beautiful things God is doing in the lives of two old friends of mine, a man and a woman who never met, who would appear to have nothing in common, and whose walks with their Lord and mine are undeniably different and yet indisputably alike.

While in Tucson, I saw Raymond (not his real name), who I’ve known since we were timid little first graders at Mary Lynn Elementary school on Tucson’s west side. This was the side of town markedly poorer than most of Tucson; my neighborhood was lower middle class and was about one-third Anglo and two-thirds Mexican-American, and Raymond’s was predominately Black and more economically disadvantaged than mine. He and I had every class together in elementary school except for 5th grade, and when we went to Junior High and High School, he got pulled into sports and I was drafted into the clique comprised of other flat-chested, stringy-haired smart girls who never dated. Still, we were friends, and I was sad that, as usually happens, our graduation in 1978 marked what both of us, had we given it any thought, would have assumed was a permanent absence in the other’s life.

So at my 20th-year high school reunion, I was shaken and saddened to hear that Ray was in prison for murder, and I committed to pray for him while he was serving his 17-year sentence. But I wanted him to know I was praying for him, and I despaired of finding him, in prison or out, ever again. Thank God for kids who know how to use the Internet. About this time last year, Jonah showed me how to find Ray’s contact information through the Department of Corrections website, and I wept when his picture came up. Cornrowed and smiling, this preacher’s son — his late father pastored a Church of God in Christ congregation in the small southeast Arizona town of Sahuarita for years — looked just like the guy we used to play kickball with. I wrote to him immediately, and he wrote back — letters that were fragrant with love for Christ and almost poetic in his kindness and concern for me and my life, family, and faith. His response to hearing of my 1981 conversion was Psalm-like in its praise of our Father, and when he was released in August, I dared to hope that we would meet up some day.

That wish was granted me last Thursday, when Jeff and I pulled up to his old house and my now-50-year-old friend embraced me and his new brother in Christ, and over linguine and seafood and vegan eggplant Parmesan, he met my sons and began a relationship with them and my husband as he and I renewed our friendship of — can it be? — nearly 45 years. He has a good job, a music ministry at his church, a solid connection with his brothers and mother, and a graciousness in his countenance that speaks not of a convenient jailhouse conversion, but a life renewed and restored by the same God, and very likely in much the same way, as mine. I’m humbled (that’s the word that keeps coming to mind) that we are friends again, and that my guys have a new brother in the Lord.

It’s a very good thing, indeed.

Today, I was reflecting on a dream I had a couple of nights ago, a dream that involved Vicki, my friend and Inter-Varsity Bible teacher and mentor in college, a dairy farm, cats, and jewelry. Discerning that dairy farms, kitties, and strands of pearls likely weren’t the point, I Googled Vicki. Our friendship ended abruptly over an issue 20 or more years ago, and I think the Lord was nudging me to ask her forgiveness. I knew she had been a reporter for the L.A. Times and an editor of the liberal magazine Common Cause, but I was overwhelmed with delight to find that she’s now ordained, a pastor in a Congregational Church back East.

Yeah, tears again. Vicki was and is one of the most gifted, prophetic, faithful and strong Christ-followers I’ve ever known, a woman only a couple of years older than I am who possesses wisdom beyond mere education and experience and kindness beyond measure. She was a friend to me unlike anyone I’d ever known before. But Vicki was sad very often, unsure of her place in the Church and troubled by the hypocrisy and apathy she saw in her sisters and brothers in Christ. Her Internet picture now shows a joy and security I had never really seen in her, and her testimony so clearly demonstrates the hand of God in her life that I was moved to try to reconcile with her. Not just to clear the slate, but in the hope of someday, if God wills, sharing the journey with her.

I hate it when God does this sort of thing, bringing someone to mind and giving me a glimpse of the Spirit’s work in their lives — only to sense the same Spirit’s gentle conviction that I have work to do. The more I read of her ordination and testimony, the more I was forced to examine the “why” of our having been out of touch for a quarter of a century, the reason, painful as it is, that I’m only just now learning this, and learning it from the Internet. The “why” is that I was self-absorbed and insensitive, and the Holy Spirit showed me that it was necessary to humble myself and acknowledge that I’d hurt her. In-person repentance is best, and the telephone is almost as good. But the former isn’t possible and the latter is too easily waved off by becoming suddenly very busy during the times Vicki’s most likely in her office. You know how it is; the reality of different time zones can conveniently screw up my intention to call her, and I could lay the blame on a three-hour time difference insignificant to my TV watching, but insurmountable when involving my having to acknowledge being a selfish clod.

So. I e-mailed first my plea for her forgiveness and then my congratulations on her ordination — with a desire to get back in touch, but a profound joy on her behalf affected not at all by her response. The wonder and delight is the enormity of our Lord’s faithfulness to Vicki and the beauty of her faithfulness to the call he placed in her heart. It would be nice if our friendship resumed. But what HAS happened is the point, not what might; there’s more than enough joy in my heart now.

Two old friends, both of whom left imprints on my heart years ago that bless me even today. Two lives touched by God, two pair of hands engaged in his work, and two hearts devoted to loving Jesus. The stories are different, the struggles diverse and the gifts and callings, disparate. But this last week brought them both together, woven in my life story, adding richness and depth to the tapestry of my life.

How in the world could I not shout it all from the electronic rooftops???!!!!

My Take On Immigration, In Essence and In Spanish

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

A button I purchased in the hands-down coolest store in Tucson, Pop-Cycles, says it all and says it best: Ningun Ser Humano Es Ilegal.

“No Human Being Is Illegal.” I can’t think of anything more fundamentally true to an ethic of respect for human life, nor to the specific issue of undocumented immigration. And for as long as the Lord Jesus gives me breath, it’s a truth I’ll continue to proclaim — because he has taught me in his Word to do unto others as I would have them do unto me (Matthew 7:12), and I always appreciate when people with more physical, political, and economic strength than I act in ways that affirm the inherent worth this Creator Savior has given me.

NINGUN (none, not any) SER HUMANO (human being) ES ILEGAL (is illegal), and Jesus is LORD of all. And Matthew 7:12 en Espanol: “Haz a otros todo lo que quieras que te hagan a ti.”

The Voters Went A Bit Off The Deep End While I Was Away

Friday, May 28th, 2010

I arrived home a couple of days ago, tanned, rested, and ready. Or something darned close. But I’d say things went better for me in Tucson than they did for every single person in the State of Idaho during the week I was away.

I’m speaking of the results of our local primaries, results that indicate that Tea Party sentiments, not to mention an astonishing lack of gratitude to a fine public servant, have washed over Latah County’s electorate. (Disclosure: I forgot to get my absentee ballot, and it shames me to confess that for only the second time in my adult life, I didn’t vote in a primary or general election, referendum, or levy. It would be hypocritical of me to write what I’m about to without confessing that). Anyway, I was saddened to find that Gresham Bouma, who seems to be confused as to the office for which he’s running — hint: it’s state senator, not prophet in chief — defeated longtime Latah County Republican Gary Schroeder in Tuesday’s primary. Gary has been a friend to public education, the environment, and to the best interests of his neighbors across the state, and he deserved better than being cast as a faithless, reckless liberal by a man who seems a little less than clear about government and its role for good in society.

I was especially nauseated by the participation of the Nazarene Church in a “prayer vigil” for Bouma’s victory and for what appeared, according to a press release issued by Bouma supporters, to also be for Schroeder’s and GOP state representative Tom Trail’s spiritual conversions. This would seem to be an unfortunate drawing of spiritual and political battle lines for no reason other than to proclaim God’s presumed favor on Bouma and his Tea Party/Libertarian/Reconstructionist brand of Christian faith, which has little to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and much to do with the gospel of Rushdooney, North, and every other dominion-taking white male Calvinist I know of. That includes our own Douglas Wilson, who I presume is feasting with alacrity in celebration of Bouma’s booting out of Schroeder.

Bouma’s campaign literature and the prayer vigil were heavy on both references to God and the appropriation, in the vigil, of the LORD’s affection and preference for Bouma and his presumed dislike for not only Schroeder but GOP Representative Tom Trail as well. This is not just tricky business, but dangerous business; God isn’t a brand or a trademark, and the Divine Name is too precious to be carelessly appropriated by politicians who presume that their personal expression of faith is exactly in line with what God wants to have happen in the political arena. The pugilistic tone some take in doing so makes it more odious; I see, in Bouma’s proclamation of being a servant of God, little interest in being a servant to others. I see lots of talk about righteousness and Biblical values, and a disturbing lack of respect for the government God ordains. He’s itching to get back to the Constitution, and yet, in his desire to end federal funding of education, he apparently doesn’t understand what a death knell that would sound for the institution that both the state’s Constitution and the common sense of reasonable women and men require for the education of children.

And therein lies the crux of the problem: His disdain for public education, much like Doug Wilson’s hatred of public education, demonstrates an uncaring, uncharitable, remarkably nonchalant approach to the betterment of the lives of other children not his own. I’ll leave it up to Bouma to defend the indefensible, but I’m really saddened that the Nazarene Church, which has done such good in Moscow, and of which Tom Trail is a member, would lend its name and its facility to a prayer rally in service not of the Gospel, but of one Christian’s crusade against infidels and the insidious reach of the government God has ordained.

(It occurs to me that perhaps what Naz Church leadership thought was a “pray for God’s will, pray for all of the candidates” time was, in fact, nothing more than appropriating a good church to play Crusade Central for a night. I pray theirs was a tragic lack of discernment, not a deliberate effort to propel Bouma into office, and if the church’s leadership was mislead in any way regarding the purpose and nature of the gathering, I hope the deceivers would be publicly rebuked and would publicly apologize to all involved. And if the church’s leadership embraced the vigil knowing full well what its purpose and structure was all about, then they were wrong. It’s too late to nix the rally, obviously, but not too late to repent).

Whether the Nazarene Church was mislead or willingly chose to dive into ugly waters, it was a bad deal. That, along with Latah County’s electoral embrace of Bouma’s more-Republican-than-thou vision of Christianity, is cause for lament and mourning. I long to see a church volunteer its doors for a service grieving the messy appropriation of Christ’s name and Gospel for singularly partisan goals, and that’s a vision Democrats, Republicans, and others who follow Jesus Christ ought to rally around. It may be lousy politics, but it would be a victory sweeter than anything Bouma experienced last week.

Because Why NOT Go To Arizona In Late May?????

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

I hate heat, and I’m not fond of endless sun. So it makes perfect sense that the guys and I are tomorrow heading out to Tucson for a week.

But with Anthony moving to Western Washington after the holidays, it’s probably the last trip the four of us will make together before careers, girlfriends, and geography all get in the way. For this reason, I would gladly camp out in Death Valley with a Baptist biker gang if it meant being with my sons and Jeff, and what makes Death Valley different from Tucson is that I have family and friends in Tucson, it has better restaurants, and the hotel has a pool. And no one I know there is a fundamentalist biker.

I won’t have access, or much access, to the Internet, so I probably won’t blog ’til we arrive home on the 26th — unless I’m arrested protesting the State’s hideous new response to immigration, in which case I promise to get word out of my detention.

I’m not real sure to what extent I’m kidding about that, but I’ll keep my protests peaceful, I promise. I hope you’re all continuing to pray that the Lord would see fit to overturn the law, and if in doing so you pray for safe travels for the four of us, I’d be most grateful.

A Brief Tutorial On Profiling

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

In the maelstrom of controversy prompted by Arizona’s fascist approach to illegal immigration, the airwaves have been flooded by analysts from the Right defending the law. Defenders of the law, with a profound — and new-found — disgust for the very idea of racial profiling, insist that in the hunt for undocumented Mexican workers, requiring authorities to check the residency papers of people who might be here illegally is somehow not . . . racial profiling.

The example given — I’ve heard this a few times a week — is that this is no more “racial profiling” than following up on suspect descriptions by the police would be. If, for example, someone calls the cops to report an assault by a 6′ 5″ bearded white man in a red turtleneck, jeans, and a black baseball cap, carrying a Louisville Slugger and a Big Gulp, is it “racial profiling” for detectives to look for a tall white guy with a beard, a baseball bat and a red turtleneck sweater? So isn’t the Arizona law kind of the same thing?

Well, no. And it’s hard to add a “nice try, though” to such a disingenuous plea.

In the example above, the assailant is a tall, bearded white guy in a red sweater. The suspect is described as such, and so the cops are on the lookout for a tall, bat-wielding white man; they’re not likely to detain short Black women, tall blonde supermodels, or Asian men in green tank tops. And when the cops find a tall white guy with a beard, a red sweater, and a black baseball camp, it’s logical that they would wrestle him to the ground and demand to know where he dumped the Big Gulp and the bat.

But our suspect is detained because he matches the description of a specific person who committed a specific crime. Under Arizona law, Latino people can now be detained and forced to produce papers because SOME Latino people have crossed the border illegally, and ALL Latinos, looking, speaking, and surnamed as they are like Latinos, are automatically considered suspects of NON-INSPECIFIC instances of illegal activity. The red-sweatered, bearded white guy is detained because he appears identical to a man who committed a crime. In Arizona, Latinos can be detained because ALL of them could be like SOME of them who MAY have done something illegal.

I think I probably don’t have to reiterate the obvious absence of “probable cause” in the latter example; it exists so clearly in the former that no reasonable person would object to the police detention of the tall white guy, and in fact would consider it gross stupidity to focus on anyone else. My prayer is that these same reasonable people would recognize the gross stupidity from a law enforcement perspective, and the creeping fascism from a humane one, of Arizona’s approach to undocumented workers. In the one case, we have a single person matching a single description; in the other, an entire ethnic group falls under suspicion simply because others of their race commit crimes.

It’s chilling that an argument so weak even gets a hearing on the airwaves, and so it has to be debunked and rebuked here on Prevailing Winds. Fortunately, truth doesn’t depend on a huge audience; tragically, though, a huge audience, as Hitler said, can be persuaded to behave despicably if you simplify the lie and repeat it often enough.

He’d be well pleased with life in Arizona these days.

And, Speaking Of Cross-Shaped Politics . . . A Cross-Shaped Politics of Liberty

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

I’ve written a lot recently about “liberty,” and until this election season winds down, and as long as Christian conservatives work themselves into a frenzy of liberty lust, it seems there will be reason to write more. So I thought a little illustration of Libertarian/Conservative and Mutualist/Progressive thought could demonstrate how “liberty” as an actual virtue, political and theological, might point us, as all good things do, to the cross of Jesus Christ.

Typically, libertarian conservatives have proclaimed what might be called “negative liberty,” or freedom FROM. “Negative liberty” would include calls for freedom from government taxing my inheritance, the liberty to not be told what to do with my property, the right to not have my guns taken away, freedom from restrictive government interference in my business and private associations, etc. For the sake of illustration, and to accommodate current political theory, we’ll put “negative liberty” on the right side of the horizontal continuum.

Progressives, on the other hand, have more of a mutualistic theory that involves “positive liberty,” or the freedom TO: Liberties that allow me, for example, to work for a living wage, to expect a safe workplace, to organize with my fellow workers, to marry the person I love, and to have my bedroom and my uterus operate freely and under the control of my own conscience. As expected, “positive liberty” occupies the left end of the spectrum.

For the Christian, though, traditional “left-right” political distinctions are not only inaccurate and insufficient, but ultimately fruitless in bringing about desired social change — because the “left-right” model ignores the believer’s relationship with Christ and with others. There are few things in the public arena more tragic than a weak, impotent left-right model roughly pasted over with Jesus talk in the hope of somehow honoring God and transforming society. There has to be something more than hate speech and stupidity dressed for Sundays and yet filthy for the rest of the week.

The spectrum itself isn’t necessarily the problem, but it cannot stand by itself. It needs a support, an up-down line to give stability to the left-right. And this is a vertical grid onto which “liberty” fits easily, but only if the Christian politician is discussing the idea with a commitment to Christ, Christian liberty, and to the effects and promises of liberty for others. Minus any of these things, we’re left only with the tired, impotent, and ultimately divisive left-right continuum that too much of our political dialogue is mired in.

It would seem obvious that within this grid, the vertical points include the Sovereign God and, on the bottom, other people. If the concept of “liberty” is submitted to Christ and his Word, with an understanding that true Biblical liberty is the foundation from which we debate the idea, we can comfortably proceed with the Lord occupying the highest point on both the grid and within our philosophy. But whereas the horizontal Libertarian/Conservative and Mutualist/Progressive grid is by definition a continuum, with variations of left-right political beliefs shifting from the polarized ends to the middle where most people’s beliefs comfortably take root, the vertical God-Others line can never be a continuum. It’s a sign of maturity, political and otherwise, when our politics evolve and shift to and from appropriate “Negative Liberty” and “Positive Liberty” ethics. This isn’t weakness or unGodly compromise, but a simple recognition that neither the Left nor the Right holds all truth. But the God-Other post is never a continuum; God doesn’t compromise or shift or evolve, and the Divine imperative to care more for others than for ourselves isn’t negotiable.

This vertical post, then, tempers ours Left-Right, Liberty From/Liberty To continuum with its unceasing, and blessed, demands that all of our ideas of liberty and freedom recognize both points. No philosophy of liberty that ignores God can prosper; no philosophy of freedom that ignores others — their needs, their sufferings, their voice — can rightly be called “Christian.”

Christian liberty is always, inexorably, Other-focused, and so a Christian politician’s clamoring for liberty must be measured by a plumb line that runs straight from God to “the least of these” Christ is represented in. Anything less — anything that embraces the idea of “liberty” only when our own appear to be threatened — results in a crooked, broken post. But taken together, the Freedom From/Freedom To horizontal post is supported wonderfully by a vertical standard that gives proper worship to God and proper honor to the Other. The result is a Cross-shaped Theology of Liberty that looks, I’m afraid, remarkably different from the hue and cry of “liberty” in this and any other political season.

Christian politics can never be strictly horizontal and can never lodge itself comfortably on only one end of the spectrum. Minus the vertical, the God-and-Other line, we have the sad spectacle of politics as usual, whose triumph is something Christians can never rightly participate in.

Excellent Reading, If You’re Interested In Cross-Shaped Politics

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

My dear friend Angela E. sent me this from the Huffington Post. I don’t read the Post, and I don’t know how to “hyperlink” or whatever, but I do know good stuff when I read it, and I recommend it highly. Check out:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-lux/how-do-christians-become_b_570361.html

Yea or Nay, Dale?

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Libertarian Extraordinaire and Christ Church Elder Dale Courtney yesterday featured this on his Right-Mind.us blog:

Ayn Rand Quote of the Day
“I am not the means to any end others may wish to accomplish. I am not a tool for their use. I am not a servant of their needs. I am not a bandage for their wounds, I am not a sacrifice on their altars” – Ayn Rand.

Rand appears to have had quite an influence on the writing of local GOP Christian campaign literature, and it seems odd that someone who professes devotion to Christ would speak in ways that reflect Randian themes. And I really can’t imagine what a Christian Elder would have to do with Rand’s ideals.

So I would love to hear from Dale on this one. Does he include the quote above disapprovingly or approvingly? I wasn’t clear. Kudos for him if the former; shame on him if the latter.

God, Gender, and the Language We Use

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

You may, if you’re a careful, discerning reader, noticed that I talk a lot about words — specifically, the words we use, like “illegal aliens” and “liberty” and how they convey sometimes more than the mere content of their definitions.

The Christians For Biblical Equality academic journal, The Priscilla Papers, is devoted this month to the subject of gender and God, and it’s a treasure trove of scholarship and reason, which explains why this award-winning journal is not read nearly as often as it should be in Evangelical circles. We too often tend to develop our theology from anecdote, not analysis, hearsay and not hermeneutics. The result has been tragic, and tragic especially for women, who suffer from what New Testament scholar and Baptist Pastor Paul R. Smith calls the Church’s “war on women.”

The mistake the Church’s male guardians of doctrine and theology have made over the centuries in wrongly assuming, yet nonetheless asserting, that God is revealed in Scripture as a male-gendered Being, a literal “Father” primarily as in “male parent.” The acquiescence to bad theology on the part of pitifully disempowered and thus predictably undiscerning laypeople has caused the Church of Jesus Christ to plunge into profound sin. The Church has idolatrously done what God has forbidden it to do — make the Divine into an easily-digestible, easily-understood, version of humankind — and has arrogantly given itself over to the belief that if God is male, and surely God must be, then men are just a little more “like” God than women are. The very worst examples of misogynistic violence and oppression, as well as what seems to be the relatively tame sexism in the pews, are all part of the same continuum of bad gender theology. It’s what makes this issue of Priscilla Papers even more important than usual, and here are just a few points:

Author, New Testament scholar and Pastor Aida Besancon Spencer rightly points out that flirting with “God is male” theology is a clear example of idolatry. “God transcends gender because God is Spirit and has no form, male or female. This is God’s explicit revelation.” She continues, “To conceive God as having any earthly form is not only to displease God (Exodus 20:4-5), but also to misrepresent God.”

Elsewhere, she observes that Biblical grammar and linguistics demonstrate that “God is not called ‘he’ because God is a male or masculine. Rather, God is ‘he’ because God is powerful and personal. In Hebrews, ‘Spirit’ (ruah) is grammatically feminine because the word is a metaphor for wind, a natural force. Grammatically, God is described by masculine (Greek theos), plural (Hebrew elohim), singular (Hebrew yhwh), feminine (Hebrew ruah)and neuter (Greek pneuma) nouns. These nouns do not tell us about God’s sexuality. They are simply classes or categories of grammatical substantives. God must communicate to us humans within the confines of our own languages.” Language is at best — and language at its best — is a roadmap that relies much on metaphor and analogy, not a pedantically literal grouping of exact specifics of definition or form.

Besancon Spencer’s comments are in contrast to the painfully — nay, pitifully — absurd belief of patriarchy defender Leon Podles, who insists that “The holy is a masculine category.” Now, I don’t call Podles’ words “pitiful” because he didn’t think the holy was somehow “feminine.” It’s because it seems so . . . grasping. So greedily certain and smug. So much like the T-shirt that says, “Jesus Loves You, But I’m His Favorite,” gleaned from pages and pages of talk about male bleeding rituals, Anglo-Catholic homosexual worship nuance, ancient French philosophers, and mother-separation, agency and communion in his book “The Church Impotent.” It’s dizzying, and it’s far afield from what God reveals in the Word.

But what God does reveal is, well, revealing of what the male words used to describe him mean or, better, were meant to convey. An example is the word “Father.” It would be a mistake, and is in fact the mistake of the heretical Trinitarian subordinationists populating anti-egalitarian circles, to take “Father” as a literal depiction of the male parent/head of household/non-female parent Being in the Godhead. He is described more commonly in “father” terms, hardly surprising in a patriarchal Old Testament culture, and yet there are myriad illustrations of the Creator using feminine imagery. Further, Jesus’ human-ness, and not his male-ness, is the ontological basis of his ability to atone for our sins, as he is described as “the human,” or “himself human,” the sole mediator between God and humans — not, in the original languages, “himself male.”

Besancon Spencer, in her article Does God Have Gender?, wryly wonders “If God is male, is the male god?” Too many men, and too many women, while denying the literal confession thereof, nonetheless act as though there were some truth in it. It’s easy to drift into practices that reflect that notion, and Smith observes — correctly, I think, that “the abortion of the feminine from our language about God is the foundation of the war against women within the Church.”

No egalitarian asserts that God is female, much less that the female is god. We simply believe, using the words of Scripture that God has given to guide us in our understanding of the Trinity, that we are forbidden from carving a gendered God in the strata of our consciences. The test of whether or not we have a high view of Scripture is not if we conclude from our Bible studies that God is male, masculine, or a literal Father to a literal Son, but that we refuse to sin against God by veering into the sin of idolatry that he despises. Fidelity to our God, fidelity to the cause of the Gospel, and fidelity to our sisters and brothers in Christ, requires that we take God as God is revealed, and acknowledge the truth that somehow, in ways understood only by God, he is neither male nor female and yet created the man and the woman both in the Imago Dei. To be “more like God” speaks not of biology, but of character. Genitalia is a terribly inadequate substitute for the Fruit of the Holy Spirit in the pursuit of Godliness, and it’s a rotten determiner of service in the Church, position in the family, and possibilities in the world.

Lots of "Liberty" Being Thrown Around . . .

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

I took a ten-day sabbatical from Prevailing Winds because the horror of Arizona’s new immigration law frankly took a lot out of me, and I don’t like to write when I’m feeling terribly emotional or otherwise on edge. It often produces my most colorful stuff, but not necessarily always my best.

It’s election season in Latah County, and thanks to the irrational anti-Obama sentiment and the effects of the Tea Party movement across the country, we are awash with GOP and independent candidates proclaiming their deep love for liberty. Legislative candidate Gresham Bouma — now, there’s a good Dutch Reformed name for you — and gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell, who is a very odd man under any circumstances, particularly electoral ones, distribute campaign literature sodden with cries of “Liberty Forever” and “We Are Not Sheeple!,” and because proclaiming oneself to be foursquare in favor of liberty is a sure way to suggest one’s opponent isn’t, it’s become this year’s by-word.

Bouma, a conservative Christian, and Rammell, a patriarchal Mormon, both make much of their reliance on God and their gratitude for the liberty and freedom he’s bestowed on America, and so it seems reasonable that we might question what “liberty” really ought to mean to the Christian and where that might fall short coming from these two arch-conservatives. I’ll write more on the subject, I’m sure, but here’s a three-point guide that the disciple of Jesus might consider in assessing the validity of “I love liberty more than the other guy” claims being tossed out:

1. Does the candidate, in trumpeting his relationship to God, define “liberty” in Biblical terms?

It’s perhaps not necessary to discuss “liberty” as it’s discussed, say, in Romans and First Corinthians, which tells us that our Christian liberty ought never be the cause for another sister or brother, or anyone else, to stumble. However, it’s important that “liberty” be embraced as the word has been used in history, and in a way consistent with Scripture’s use of the term. Defining “liberty” as the reduction or elimination of taxes, the elimination of environmental and other property-usage restrictions, and the continuation of policies that benefit the rich and powerful is not what liberty or freedom is about. Those things often have little to do with justice, and feverish cries for liberty don’t resonate well when those making them would deny civil and privacy rights for others. God knows that too much “liberty” and not enough justice has poisoned this and every other culture similarly out of balance.

2. Does the candidate have a record of supporting “liberty” for others — the poor, the weak, the outcast, the disenfranchised — long before he considered his own liberties to be at risk?

Scripture tells us that we are to consider the rights and needs of others, especially those weaker than us, before we embrace our own. Paeans to freedom and a lust for liberty are hypocritical if the oppression and injustice others face daily become entrenched with no regard — or worse, with the approval of — those who, when they believe their rights are at risk, are overcome with a sudden, selfish commitment to safeguarding for themselves what others have missed, and missed to much greater damage than privileged white males are ever likely to endure.

3. Finally, in proclaiming his love for liberty, does the candidate speak in truthful ways that demonstrate respect, a concern for accuracy, and a sincere desire to improve not just the government, but the entire electoral process?

The cries from Tea Partyers, Constitutionalists, birthers, Sovereign Citizens and foes of immigrants are often what Scripture describes as “clanging cymbals” devoid of love. And while this is wrong, and sinful, regardless of who the cymbal-clanger is, this is a season when vitriol and vituperativeness is coming from the far Right, which laces its hateful, divisive speech with commensurate — but never appropriate — doses of faux-Christian language. There are ways to be critical of President Obama without stooping to lies, innuendo, racist taunts and rumor-mongering, and there are ways to protest government spending without eviscerating incumbents and poisoning dialogue. Anger, particularly anger mixed with ignorance, can energize a crowd, perhaps enough to even win an election. But it’s not a campaign plank; it offers no solutions, but only propels misinformed, bitter people to offices they don’t understand. Vehemence combined with knowledge can be a good thing. Vehemence on its own . . . well, it makes for interesting campaign literature, but abysmal performance.

From my reading of their literature, I have to say that Rammell fails on every account, including the basic “act decently” one that I’m sure his mother taught him. Bouma is slightly less incendiary, but the “liberty” he clamors for is a peculiar scenario that has a distinct “I’ve got mine, to golly-heck with yours” attitude. Neither ought to be elected, and I pray they won’t be.

More, much more, on this later.