Saturday, August 30, 2008

Palin Booed During Her 2nd Campaign Speech

In only her second campaign speech since being chosen as McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin was booed when she attempted to invoke Hillary Clinton's name in her speech.

Sorry McCain, everyone sees through your transparent gimmick. McCain's gamble is going to fail horribly, I'm happy to say.

Link to CNN article.

McCain's VP Selection: Sarah Palin

The first thing that crossed my mind when I heard the news of McCain's choice for VP was: "Will the American people really be so dense as to NOT see through this obvious pandering to women voters?"

Honestly, I almost am having a hard time believing he actually did this, and it makes me wonder - yet again - just how out of touch with the spirit of American voters that McCain really is.

This choice is such an overtly transparent political move that it is almost insulting. Does McCain really think that Hillary supporters - who are largely feminist, pro-choice, and pro-environment - are going to flock to a gun-toting soccer mom and former beauty pageant candidate?

It's a big gamble, for sure. If people recognize what a transparent gimmick it is, it could really backfire on him.

What he's effectively saying to the American public is: "Wait, wait, look at me! I can make history too! See, a woman!"

McCain is a fine politician. Palin is, no doubt, an intelligent woman with a lot of spunk. But to elect these two people as the leaders of the free world - the former a septuagenarian who has voted with Bush 90% of the time, and the latter an inexperienced mother of five only a heartbeat away from the presidency? It's got to be a joke.

I was asked by a McCain supporter whether Palin's inexperience was any more of an issue than Obama's inexperience. I have already written elsewhere why I believe the "inexperience" theme of McCain's campaign against Obama is a fraud. It's even more of a fraud now that he has selected Palin. Consider the following:

1) Obama has a better educational background, one better suited to public office. He has a B.A. from Columbia University in Political Science with an emphasis in International Relations. Later, after working with community action groups for several years in Chicago, he went to Harvard, where he became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, and graduated with a J.D. magna cum laude.

These are the kinds of educational credentials that many successful politicians have. Actually, they're a lot better than many politicians have.

Palin, on the other hand, has a Bachelor's in journalism with a minor in poly-sci from the University of Idaho. And that's it.

2) Obama has a lot more political experience. Obama was an Illinois state politician for 7 years - Illinois being a state with 12 million people (5th largest in the country), including the 3rd largest city in the country. After that, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he has nearly 4 year's experience. All told, he has 11 years of legitimate political experience at both the state and federal levels.

Palin, on the other hand, has several years' experience on the city council of Wasilla, Alaska. Wasilla is a town of about 6,700 people, 85% of which are white. There are PTA presidents in the lower 48 who govern over that many, or more, people.

After her time on the city council, she was defeated in a run for lieutenant governor. In 2006, however, she successfully won the gubernatorial election, and became governor. As a result, she now has a little less than 2 years of gubernatorial experience to add to her resume.

Alaska has 670,000 people. If you eliminated 100,000 people from the city of Indianapolis, Palin's "executive" experience would be equivalent with a 2-year term as the mayor of that city.

Even many Republicans seem flabbergasted and puzzled by this choice. One friend of mine, who voted for Bush in both 2000 and 2004, and is not a supporter of Obama, said that McCain's selection of Palin was a "horrible choice." Another person asked the question: "Is McCain TRYING to let Obama win?"

Alaska will not help McCain at all in electoral votes. Clearly his choice of Palin was based on her gender, her conservative politics, and the fact that she's not a Washington insider. Yet her incredible lack of experience and "average" education makes his choice a huge gamble, and completely destroys his theme of Obama's inexperience. Do we really want a septuagenarian with a history of cancer and physical/mental torture in a POW camp governing the country together with a young and inexperienced state politician?

And, of course, none of this even addresses the fact that Palin, in her first two years as governor, is already involved in a scandal relating to the hiring and firing of state employees. This is the kind of scandal that brought down the governor of Kentucky, and caused him to lose big in his re-election bid in 2007. Whether she is guilty of anything or not, why bring someone onto the ticket that could be a potential political liability, in addition to the fact that it seems to be such a transparent gimmick? Is this evidence of McCain's age and a loss of mental sharpness?

I've said in the days leading up to this VP selection that depending on who he chose, I would feel either better or worse about the prospects of a McCain presidency. Putting an inexperienced Alaska politician one heartbeat away from the presidency is a scary, disturbing scenario.

Unless McCain's got something else really fancy up his sleeve, I really believe he has helped Obama's chances by choosing Palin. It's a transparent gimmick that I think many voters will see through, and I think her youth and inexperience will only highlight the issue of McCain's age and the possibility of him not being able to finish his term.

Obviously, die-hard Republicans are going to rally around her. A friend of mine, who is a very conservative Republican, was lauding her as a "gun-toting strong woman" and he was clearly very proud. But his vote for McCain was never in doubt to start with. I don't think most of the American voters that McCain is trying to court will be very impressed with his choice. I think he has made a calculated gamble that is going to fail.

Is Obama the Best Choice for Democrats?

On a messageboard today, I was asked by a McCain supporter whether I truly believe Obama was the best choice for the Democrats to nominate in this election. Here was my response to him:

I can only speak for myself, but I honestly think that Obama is about the best candidate the Dems have put up in a very long time. I started out as a Hillary supporter. I even had a bumper sticker and a T-shirt as far back as the middle of last year.

But when Obama came along, he won me over very quickly with his frankness, honesty, charisma, and vision for change.

I really identify strongly with that last part especially - the promise of change and freshness after 8 years of Bush.

I honestly see this election as voting for fresh, new, and different, or voting for old and institutionalized. We've already tried the old and institutionalized - and its given us a very bad 8 years.

Do we want to try something else now, or do we want to simply vote for a new person with old ideas, hoping that, somehow, this time the result will be different?

McCain can try to push his "maverick" theme all he wants, but the Senate record doesn't lie - he's voted along Bush policies and platforms 90% of the time. That's not being a maverick, that's being a rubber stamper.

Obviously, if someone thinks Bush has done a fine job, then they will have no problem with McCain, and Obama is certainly not trying to get those people's votes. But they only represent (in the most recent polls) 27% of Americans. Bush has nearly a 70% disapproval rating. That bodes very, very badly for McCain, unless he can convince people that 90% unity with Bush doesn't really make him Bush III.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama's Inexperience: A Hypocritical Lie

One of the themes of the McCain campaign, and the general Republican campaign this year, has been Barack Obama’s so-called inexperience. It’s such a big issue, in fact, that Obama addressed it directly in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. It is, in fact, one of McCain’s primary anti-Obama themes. McCain’s followers, in turn, have latched on to this, and I have seen and heard a lot of talk about Obama’s inexperience, and how voters are “worried” that he’s not up to the job.

But is it fair? Is it reasonable? Is it true?

No, it’s not fair. No, it’s not reasonable. No, it’s not true. In fact, it’s a hypocritical lie.

For starters, there is not a Bush Republican in this country who is in a position to pull the inexperience card on Obama. Regardless of Obama’s background, the Republicans voted George W. Bush to the presidency with practically no experience at all. He had been governor of Texas for 5 years when he was elected president. That’s it. He’d been a businessman before that (and, by all accounts, not a very good one). He did not have one iota of political experience in the federal government.

So regardless of Obama’s experience, any Republican discrediting Obama for lack of experience is already a hypocrite.

But is Obama, in fact, inexperienced?

Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, and began his term shortly thereafter. As such, he has about 4 years of experience in Washington politics. Prior to that, Obama had served for seven years in the Illinois state senate, having been elected in 1997. That adds up to 11 years of political experience overall, including 4 years of experience in Washington.

Does 11 years of governing experience, at both the state and federal level, really qualify as “inexperienced”?

Of course not. It’s nothing more than a hypocritical lie. It’s hypocritical because the same Republicans who are attaching this moniker to Obama had no trouble voting for a far less experienced Bush; and it’s a lie because, in fact, Obama has a perfectly reasonable amount of political experience.

In my opinion, this election comes down to one primary thing, and it’s not about whether Obama has enough experience. It’s about choosing to vote for someone who is fresh, new, and committed to positive change, or choosing to vote for someone who is old, institutionalized, and committed to staying the course of the last 8 years.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Transcript of Hillary Clinton's Speech at the DNC

I am honored to be here tonight. I'm here tonight as a proud mother. As a proud Democrat. As a proud senator from New York. A proud American. And a proud supporter of Barack Obama.

My friends, it is time to take back the country we love.

And whether you voted for me, or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team, and none of us can afford to sit on the sidelines.
This is a fight for the future. And it's a fight we must win together.

I haven't spent the past 35 years in the trenches advocating for children, campaigning for universal health care, helping parents balance work and family and fighting for women's rights here at home and around the world . . . to see another Republican in the White House squander our promise of a country that really fulfills the hopes of our people.

And you haven't worked so hard over the last 18 months, or endured the last eight years, to suffer through more failed leadership.

No way. No how. No McCain.

Barack Obama is my candidate. And he must be our president.

Tonight I ask you to remember what a presidential election is really about. When the polls have closed, and the ads are finally off the air, it comes down to you -- the American people and your lives, and your children's futures.

For me, it's been a privilege to meet you in your homes, your workplaces and your communities. Your stories reminded me that everyday America's greatness is bound up in the lives of the American people -- your hard work, your devotion to duty, your love for your children, and your determination to keep going, often in the face of enormous obstacles.

You taught me so much and you made me laugh, and yes, you even made me cry. You allowed me to become part of your lives. And you became part of mine.

I will always remember the single mom who had adopted two kids with autism. She didn't have health insurance and discovered she had cancer. But she greeted me with her bald head painted with my name on it and asked me to fight for health care for her and her children.

I will always remember the young man in a Marine Corps T-shirt who waited months for medical care and he said to me: "Take care of my buddies; a lot of them are still over there, and then will you please take care of me?"

I will always remember the young boy who told me his mom worked for the minimum wage and that her employer had cut her hours. He said he just didn't know what his family was going to do.
I will always be grateful to everyone from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the territories, who joined our campaign on behalf of all those people left out and left behind by the Bush administration.

To my supporters, to my champions -- to my sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits -- from the bottom of my heart: Thank you.

Thank you because you never gave in. You never gave up. And together we made history.

Along the way, America lost two great Democratic champions who would have been here with us tonight. One of our finest young leaders, Arkansas Democratic Chair Bill Gwatney, who believed with all his heart that America and the South should be Democratic from top to bottom.

And Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a dear friend to many of us, a loving mother, a courageous leader who never gave up her quest to make America fairer and smarter, stronger and better. Steadfast in her beliefs, a fighter of uncommon grace, she was an inspiration to me and to us all.

Our heart goes out to Stephanie's son, Mervyn Jr., and Bill's wife, Rebecca, who traveled to Denver to join this family of Democrats.

Now Bill Gwatney and Stephanie Tubbs Jones knew that after eight years of George Bush, people are hurting at home, and our standing has eroded around the world. We have a lot of work ahead.

Jobs lost, houses gone, falling wages, rising prices. The Supreme Court in a right-wing headlock and our government in partisan gridlock. The biggest deficit in our nation's history. Money borrowed from the Chinese to buy oil from the Saudis.

Putin and Georgia, Iran and Iraq.

I ran for president to renew the promise of America. To rebuild the middle class and sustain the American Dream, to provide the opportunity to those who were willing to work hard and have that work rewarded, to save for college, a home and retirement, to afford the gas and groceries and still have a little left over each month.

To promote a clean energy economy that will create millions of green-collar jobs.

To create a health care system that is universal, high quality, and affordable so that every single parent knows their children will be taken care of.

We want to create a world class education system and make college affordable again.

To fight for an America defined by deep and meaningful equality -- from civil rights to labor rights, from women's rights to gay rights, from ending discrimination to promoting unionization to providing help for the most important job there is: caring for our families. And to help every child live up to his or her God-given potential.

To make America once again a nation of immigrants and of laws.

To restore fiscal sanity to Washington and make our government an instrument of the public good, not of private plunder.

To restore America's standing in the world, to end the war in Iraq, bring our troops home with honor, care for our veterans and give them the services they have earned.

We will work for an America again that will join with our allies in confronting our shared challenges, from poverty and genocide to terrorism and global warming.

Most of all, I ran to stand up for all those who have been invisible to their government for eight long years. Those are the reasons I ran for president, and those are the reasons I support Barack Obama for president.

I want you to ask yourselves: Were you in this campaign just for me? Or were you in it for that young Marine and others like him? Were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids? Were you in it for that young boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage? Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?

We need leaders once again who can tap into that special blend of American confidence and optimism that has enabled generations before us to meet our toughest challenges. Leaders who can help us show ourselves and the world that with our ingenuity, creativity and innovative spirit, there are no limits to what is possible in America.

Now, this will not be easy. Progress never is. But it will be impossible if we don't fight to put a Democrat back into the White House.

We need to elect Barack Obama because we need a president who understands that America can't compete in the global economy by padding the pockets of energy speculators while ignoring the workers whose jobs have been shipped overseas. We need a president who understands that we can't solve the problems of global warming by giving windfall profits to the oil companies while ignoring opportunities to invest in the new technologies that will build a green economy.

We need a president who understands that the genius of America has always depended on the strength and vitality of the middle class.

Barack Obama began his career fighting for workers displaced by the global economy. He built his campaign on a fundamental belief that change in this country must start from the ground up, not the top down. And he knows government must be about "We the people" not "We the favored few."

And when Barack Obama is in the White House, he'll revitalize our economy, defend the working people of America, and meet the global challenges of our time. Democrats know how to do this. As I recall, we did it before with President Clinton and the Democrats. And if we do our part, we'll do it again with President Obama and the Democrats.

Just think of what America will be as we transform our energy agenda by creating millions of green jobs and building a new, clean energy future. Get middle class families get the tax relief they deserve. And I cannot wait to watch Barack Obama sign into law a health care plan that covers every single American.

And we know that President Obama will end the war in Iraq responsibly and bring our troops home and begin to repairing our alliances around the world.

And Barack will have with him a terrific partner in Michelle Obama. Anyone who saw Michelle's speech last night knows she will be a great First Lady for America.

And Americans are fortunate that Joe Biden will be at Barack Obama's side. A strong leader, a good man, who understands both the economic stresses here at home and the strategic challenges abroad. He is pragmatic, tough, and wise. And, of course, Joe will be supported by his wonderful wife, Jill.

They will be a great team for our country.

Now, John McCain is my colleague and my friend.

He has served our country with honor and courage.

But we don't need four more years of the last eight years.

More economic stagnation and less affordable health care.

More high gas prices and less alternative energy.

More jobs getting shipped overseas and fewer jobs created here at home.

More skyrocketing debt and home foreclosures .and mounting bills that are crushing our middle class families.

More war and less diplomacy.

More of a government where the privileged come first and everyone else comes last.

Well, John McCain says the economy is fundamentally sound. John McCain doesn't think that 47 million people without health insurance is a crisis. John McCain wants to privatize Social Security. And in 2008, he still thinks it's OK when women don't earn equal pay for equal work.

Now, with an agenda like that, it makes perfect sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities. Because these days they're awfully hard to tell apart.

You know, America is still around after 232 years because we have risen to every challenge and every new time, changing to be faithful to our values of equal opportunity for all and the common good.

And I know what that can mean for every man, woman, and child in America. I'm a United States Senator because in 1848 a group of courageous women and a few brave men gathered in Seneca Falls, New York, many traveling for days and nights, to participate in the first convention on women's rights in our history.

And so dawned a struggle for the right to vote that would last 72 years, handed down by mother to daughter to granddaughter -- and a few sons and grandsons along the way.

These women and men looked into their daughters' eyes and imagined a fairer and freer world, and found the strength to fight. To rally and picket. To endure ridicule and harassment and brave violence and jail.

And after so many decades -- 88 years ago on this very day -- the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote became enshrined in our Constitution.

My mother was born before women could vote. My daughter got to vote for her mother for president.

This is the story of women and men who defy the odds and never give up.

How do we give this country back to them?

By following the example of a brave New Yorker , a woman who risked her life to bring slaves along the Underground Railroad.

On that path to freedom, Harriet Tubman had one piece of advice.

If you hear the dogs, keep going.

If you see the torches in the woods, keep going.

If they're shouting after you, keep going.

Don't ever stop. Keep going.

If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.

And even in the darkest of moments, that is what Americans have done. We have found the faith to keep going.

I've seen it . I've seen it in our teachers and firefighters, nurses and police officers, small business owners and union workers, I've seen it in the men and women of our military. In America, you always keep going.

We are Americans. We're not big on quitting.

But remember, before we can keep going, we have to get going by electing Barack Obama the next president of the United States.

We don't have a moment to lose or a vote to spare.

Nothing less than the fate of our nation and the future of our children hangs in the balance.

I want you to think about your children and grandchildren come Election Day. Think about the choices your parents and grandparents made that had such a big impact on your life and on the life of our nation.

We've got to ensure that the choice we make in this election honors the sacrifices of all who came before us, and will fill the lives of our children with possibility and hope.

That is our duty, to build that bright future, to teach our children that, in America, there is no chasm too deep, no barrier too great, no ceiling too high for all who work hard, who keep going, have faith in God, in our country, and each other.

That is our mission, Democrats. Let's elect Barack Obama and Joe Biden for that future worthy of our great country.

Thank you. God bless you, and Godspeed.

The Debate that Never Was: Faith vs. Works

Most Christians are likely to be familiar with the question of faith versus works, and the discussion about which one is more important. Some churches stress faith: make the public or private profession, accept Jesus into your life, and rest assured of your place in eternity. Other churches focus on works: faith alone is not enough; we must demonstrate our faith through our actions.

Though others with different experiences might disagree with me, it has long been my impression that most Christian churches, and most Christian believers, tend to abide more by the first option – faith is what really matters in the end. I think this is probably particularly true in evangelical churches, which stress salvation and mission work. Someone may be a "bad" Christian if their actions do not follow their profession of faith, but it is the profession of faith and the acceptance of God's free gift of grace that ultimately secures a place for us in heaven. Many Christians, in fact, do not believe a person can "lose" their salvation once the gift has been accepted, no matter how "bad" they may subsequently behave.

I would like to propose a completely different take on this long-standing debate.

PAUL AND JAMES

It has often been asserted – in fact, I have done so myself – that the New Testament teaches opposing views on this topic. This, of course, is one of the primary reasons for the very existence of the debate. If the New Testament was crystal clear on this topic, there would be no reason for Christians to deliberate upon it. Indeed, common knowledge indicates that Paul teaches that faith is what saves us, while James teaches that faith without works is a dead faith.

In the past, I have argued that James' teachings may likely have come – at least in part – in direct response to Paul. Early Christians who studied Paul came to understand professions of faith as the most important, perhaps the only important, aspect of the Christian life. James, then, in an effort to contradict this, taught that faith is only the beginning; true faith, for James, was demonstrated through good works. James was clarifying Paul.

I still believe this is a likely scenario, because it cannot be denied that much of Paul's theology seems primarily faith-based and not works-based. Paul, writing in the book of Romans, says: "For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law." Later in the same text, Paul asserts that the Jews have not found righteousness, despite their devotion to the law. To explain why, he states in 9:32: "Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works."

In another letter, this time to the church in Galatia, Paul states: "…we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law."

In an oft-quoted passage from Ephesians, Paul says: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast."

James, on the other hand, states his case in quite opposing terms. In James chapter 2, the writer states: "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,' and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead."

James' point could not be clearer. True faith is demonstrated by action. Without action, the faith is not real, and no salvation – whatever you understand that term to mean – will come from your profession of faith.

So who, then, was right? Do we follow Paul's teachings about the primacy of faith, or James' teachings about the primacy of works?

I think the problem with that question is that it assumes a dichotomy that is not really there. I do not believe that James and Paul were that much different in how they viewed the Christian life, and I believe they would have largely agreed on just what it meant for someone to call themselves a Christian.

Simply put, for Paul and James both, a Christian was someone whose life was transformed by faith in God through Jesus.

The key phrase there is not "faith in God through Jesus," but rather "someone whose life was transformed by faith." A profession of faith is meaningless. A changed nature, based on the transforming power of a life led in the footsteps of Jesus, is what really saves us.

But what does that fancy Sunday School talk really mean? To get the answer to that question, Christians need to understand just how it was that Jesus taught us to live.

JESUS'S VISION FOR HUMANITY

It is well-established that Jesus was a kind of alternate-wisdom teacher who came out of the backwoods of Galilee teaching and preaching a new vision for humankind, encouraging his followers to shrug off the yoke of oppressive religious systems and embrace a life of love, compassion, and selflessness. Whether one supposes that Jesus did this because he was the divine son of God, or simply because he was an exceptionally gifted human being uniquely in touch with the societal problems of his day, does not change the fact that Jesus preached a revolutionary message, calling his followers to have new life, and to have it more abundantly.

In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus describes those who will inherit the kingdom of God. He states that the kingdom is reserved for those who feed the hungry, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit and minister to those in prison – in other words, those who put others before themselves and who use their gifts and abilities in service to others. "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." Jesus then points out that those who do not do these things – those who watch out for number one, those who lead lives of self-serving hypocrisy – will live in perpetuity apart from God.

In John 15:17, Jesus puts it more simply, "I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another." Or, as it is stated in the NIV: "This is my command: Love each other."

In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus states that the two "greatest" commandments are to love God with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

In Luke 7:47, Jesus is talking about a "sinful" woman who has shown up at a dinner party Jesus was attending. He says: "…her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." The wording here is a bit cumbersome, but what Jesus is saying is that those who demonstrate love are forgiven – that is, they are welcomed into the kingdom of God – while those who do not show love, are not welcomed.

The point of all these quotations (and these, of course, only scratch the surface) is to show that Jesus' vision of a Godly life was a life lived in unconditional love and service to others. In fact, such a life is the only Godly life, in Jesus' vision. To put it differently, a life lived with God is a life transformed into one of love, compassion, service to others, and humility. If one's life is not transformed in this way, one is not living a life with God. Indeed, such a person is living apart from God.

Having established, then, some of the basics of Jesus' vision for humanity, how does this factor in with the teachings of Paul and James? We have already looked at the common passages and the common interpretation of those passages. Now we turn to a more complete picture.

THE BIGGER PICTURE OF PAUL

In the letters of Paul, we have seen that he routinely talks of the importance of faith over works. However, we must understand what Paul was talking about when he spoke of "works." In most cases, the phrase used in the original Greek is actually something like "works of the law," or "deeds of custom." Paul was referring not to acts of kindness and goodness, but rather to Jewish custom and Mosaic Law. Paul's words were meant to convey his message – and that of Jesus – that Pharisaic adherence to strict religious traditions and laws was not the way to live a Godly life; instead, a Godly life was one lived in love, compassion, and selflessness. Paul sums this up well in his famous hymn from 1 Corinthians: "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."

In Galatians 5:6, Paul reveals, perhaps even more succinctly, his Christ-centered vision: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything;" (that is, your religious background is irrelevant); "the only thing that counts is faith working through love." Faith working through love. Not faith alone. But faith working through love. In other words, faith is inextricably tied to a life of love, compassion, and selflessness. That sort of life is faith. That sort of life is the life of Jesus. That sort of life is a Godly life.

Paul puts this into even better perspective in the book of Romans. In chapter 2, he states that there will be "glory and honor and peace" for those who "do good," but only "anguish and distress" for those who do evil. Notice Paul does not say good things will come to those who make the right profession of faith, and bad things will come to those who make the wrong profession of faith; what Paul says is that rewards come to those who do good, and punishment comes to those who do evil. It is about action, not about faith. As Paul states a few verses later: "For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God's sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified." (It is important to note that the Greek word "nomos," translated here as "law," is used in a different context from the "Mosaic law" or the law of the Pharisees, used in other spots. For Paul, Jesus' message was a new law unto itself, supplanting the old.)

Later in that same passage, Paul goes on to say something that seems quite revolutionary in light of common beliefs about the exclusivity of Christianity. He says:

When Gentiles, who do not possess the law [that is, the message of Jesus], do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.

In other words, those who do good are doing the work of God – living the life of Jesus – even if they do not realize it, and even if they follow a different religious tradition (the "Gentiles" of Paul's letter to the Romans were references to the pagans of the Roman empire). Things like love, compassion, kindness, goodness, forgiveness, and selflessness are things that many people do naturally. For Paul, these things were evidence of God's existence in the natural world. All that was good came from God. As such, all who do good works will be judged accordingly by God. This is a profoundly revolutionary thing to say, and digs deep at the common refrain within many Christian churches that claim to corner the market on God. Paul is telling us that if you are doing good – if you are following your conscience and making positive change in the world – you are doing the work of God, and are therefore part of God's kingdom.

THE BIGGER PICTURE OF JAMES

In the passages that often sit at the heart of the debate on faith versus works, it is important – as it was with Paul – to understand what James meant when he talked about works. We have already seen that Paul's language, in the original Greek, was something akin to "works of the law" or "deeds of custom." Paul was talking about Pharisaic tradition. James, on the other hand, is talking about good deeds.

As such, when we look at the bigger picture of James, we see an ideology in line with both Paul and Jesus. In the opening chapter, James reveals this alignment perfectly: "Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above…" That is, everything good is of God – which is precisely what Paul and Jesus teach us. James even – apparently – quotes from Paul's letter to the Romans a few verses later, when he says, "…be doers of the word and not merely hearers…"

James tells us, quite bluntly, that Christians whose lives are not transformed by their faith like to "think they are religious," but, in fact, "their religion is worthless." What a wake-up call that should be to any Christian!

James ends his first chapter with perhaps the phrase that best sets forth the theme, or thesis, of his letter: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." In other words, religion is not about professions of faith; rather, religion is about transformation and subsequent action in the world. Christianity is about helping others. Christianity is a verb.

CHRISTIANITY IS A VERB

Jesus, and many of the writers of the New Testament, preached a revolutionary message – revolutionary in the context of Jewish custom and Roman beliefs. Worthless are the customs of the world, they said. Worthless are the pseudo-religious proclamations and professions of faith of institutional religion. Hopeless is a life of self-serving hypocrisy and hate-fueled rage. Meaningless is the pursuit of wealth and creature comforts. Useless is the lifestyle that watches out for number one.

Instead, they called us to exchange hate and derision for love and compassion, grudge-holding for mercy and forgiveness, selfish desire for selfless humility, the pursuit of wealth for the pursuit of generosity, antagonism for peace and tolerance, and self-centered concern for self-sacrificing acts of kindness.

To do these things is to be transformed by faith in God. To have faith in God is to do these things. Christianity is a verb. Religion is a verb. Any lifestyle, religious or otherwise, that involves this kind of action and this kind of transformation has hit the target squarely in the center, and has reached communion with the mystery of God. Likewise, any lifestyle, religious or otherwise, that does not involve this kind of action and transformation, has missed completely.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Why Barack Obama is the Better Candidate

As a long-time Democrat, it will come as no shock to anyone that I am supporting Obama in this year's election. However, as opposed to previous election years, I really feel strongly about Obama, and really feel that he is the best choice for the U.S. That's not to say that I only supported Gore and Kerry out of devotion to the Democratic party, but I didn't feel as strongly about them as I feel about Obama. Obama is clearly the best candidate that the Democrats have put up since Clinton.

In 2000 and 2004, I was as cynical as anyone else about the two candidates. It was a common refrain during those election years that we were faced with choosing the "lesser of two evils," and that was a point I agreed on. Where I disagreed was on which candidate represented the "lesser."

Be that as it may, my feeling this year has been entirely different. Although I don't hear the "lesser of two evils" refrain as often this year as I heard in 2000 and 2004, it still seems to be a somewhat common feeling, particularly among moderates. This year, however, I don't agree. I think, first of all, that both candidates are better than either candidate in 2000 and 2004. Second, I think Obama is a clearly better candidate than McCain, and one of the best overall presidential candidates in recent memory. I think people have gotten so used to being cynical about presidential elections, that even when two good candidates are put forth, people still want to stick to the old "they both suck" idea. I mean, let's face it – everyone shares the feeling that politicians are all liars and will do or say anything to get elected. What most people don't seem to realize is that politicians are like this because the American voting public demands it! If a politician got up and ran for a major office (like president, for example), and didn't play the politics game, and didn't "compromise" his stances, and didn't "act" presidential, he or she wouldn't have a snowball's chance in Sudan of getting elected president.

If the American public thinks their politicians are all scheming, double-crossing liars, the American public only has itself to blame. Our politicians are us. They are a reflection of us, and of our demands upon them.

Cynics aside, I think we have two reasonably decent candidates this year, and I think we can reasonably feel good about the future, because I don't think a presidency by either of these candidates will be the abominable failure that Bush's presidency was doomed to be. Both of these men are intelligent, well-spoken, full of ideas, commanding of respect, and experienced in Washington politics. Bush was none of those things.

But I'm choosing Obama over McCain, and here's why.

  1. It's no secret – I admitted it above, after all – that I am a Democrat and have been throughout my entire adulthood. In fact, I've voted for a Republican only one time, and that was in a congressional election when the only person running for the seat was a Republican. That person – Ernie Fletcher – proved to be a charlatan and a crook, and I deeply regretted even that one Republican vote. He later was elected Governor of Kentucky – the first Republican governor in something like 40 years. His term was full of scandal, backdoor deals, partisan-driven witch hunts, bankrupting the state government, and good ol' boy politics, and he lost his re-election bid in a near landslide. As such, it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am supporting Obama. Democrats simply represent my worldviews better than Republicans.

  2. I was a Hillary supporter for a very long time. In fact, as far back as the summer of 2007, I bought a Hillary '08 bumper sticker and had that on my car for many months. However, after Obama came to prominence late last year, and especially early this year, I couldn't help but take notice. He had personal charisma. He had convictions and he stuck to them. He didn't give in to partisan-fueled nonsense (like with the whole flag lapel pin thing). He stood up for himself without pandering (like with the whole "Obama's pastor is a left-wing nut" thing). He gave straight answers without spin.

    I suppose the first thing that really won me over to Obama was something quite innocuous. During the early days of the primaries, when Hillary still had prominence, there was a debate or a question and answer session or something that all the candidates attended. One of the questions was something like "What is your biggest personal weakness?" or something like that. Hillary and all the other candidates gave the standard political answer (we might call it the "Sunday School" answer), saying things like "I just care about the American public so much!" and "I guess my biggest weakness is my dedication to my job" and yadda, yadda, yadda. Well, Obama was actually called on first. And when he answered, he said something like, "Well, I dunno, I guess I'm pretty disorganized. My desk is always a mess."

    That comment, alone, particularly in light of how everyone else responded, really struck me as raw and authentic. The next day, Obama was interviewed on NPR, and was asked about that comment. The reporter pointed out how the other candidates had given Sunday School responses, and then asked Obama if he would have answered differently, had he not been asked to respond first. Obama laughed and first said something like, "I was asked what I thought was a pretty simple question, so I gave what I thought was an honest and simple answer. I suppose I should have said my biggest weakness was wanting to help little old ladies cross the street." He went on to assert that no, he wouldn't have answered any differently if he'd had a chance to hear what the others said, because the difference between him and the other candidates is that he doesn't spin things out – he just gives straight answers.

    That really impressed me, and I have more or less been a fan of Obama ever since. The Hillary sticker came off my car within a matter of weeks, and I ultimately voted for Obama for the primary.

  3. Obama is educated, intelligent, and charismatic. These are traits that are important in a leader, and command respect, not only from American voters, but from other countries/world leaders as well. One of my biggest beefs against Bush is that he is an embarrassment. Having Bush as the American president is sort of like bringing your crazy uncle to the company Christmas party. People respect intelligence and charisma. I think Obama – by the simple virtue of his personal characteristics – will help repair America's damaged reputation in the international community. When you elect as president the pampered douchebag sitting at the end of the bar with a martini glass – the one who has never worked a day in his life and has been handed everything he ever wanted on a silver platter – when you elect that person to the presidency, you get what we've had the last 8 years.
  4. I have been patently opposed to the Iraq war since the day it was first mentioned in the media in the days after 9/11. I knew then, as I know now, that Bush was simply exploiting the patriotism and outrage of Americans after 9/11 to drum up support for an otherwise insupportable invasion of Iraq. I knew his claims about "Weapons of Mass Destruction" were bogus – that much was evident from the reports of the U.N. weapons inspectors who had actually been in Iraq and had found no evidence to support Bush's claims. This doesn't make me a psychic – there were millions of people who were skeptical of what Bush was saying – anyone willing to use their brains could have seen through those transparent lies. As such, I have great respect for Obama for having stood out against the war, publically and openly, from its very inception. He led anti-war rallies in Chicago – while he was still a state senator – as far back as October of 2002, the same time that the U.S. Congress gave Bush authority to go to war.
  5. He has not pandered to the religious right. A professed Christian, Obama has, nevertheless, stood up to the machinations of the religious right, recognizing that they are neither religious, nor right. In 2007, after he had teamed up in an AIDS awareness campaign with Saddleback Church minister Rick Warren, several anti-abortion groups (18 to be precise) published an "open-letter" condemning Obama's stance on abortion and Rick Warren's relationship with him (as if that has anything to do with AIDS). In the letter, they stated: "In the strongest possible terms, we oppose Rick Warren's decision to ignore Senator Obama's clear pro-death stance and invite him to Saddleback Church anyway." In other words, no pro-choice person should be welcomed in our church! Instead of pandering, Obama called them out for the hypocrites they are, stating that they are "all too eager to exploit what divides us."
  6. I support Obama's vision of healthcare for all Americans. As someone who has spent nearly 3 of the last 4 years without health insurance – despite working and having a college degree – I recognize that our healthcare system is in sorry shape. I think one of the responsibilities of government is to provide for the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for its constituents, and I would include health insurance as part of that responsibility to provide for "life." Indeed, life is very difficult and fragile when you don't have health insurance.

But what about McCain?

  1. McCain has been a major supporter of Bush II. I've already touched on Bush II above, and there is no reason to go into his presidency any further. Everyone over the age of 11 understands the travesty that Bush has been as our president. No matter how much better McCain would no doubt be as president than Bush has been, McCain cannot hide from the fact that he has supported Bush almost from the first day of the man's presidency. Of course, there have been a few places where McCain has stood against Bush – most notably on the environment (and good for McCain for doing so), but the far and away vast majority of the major political themes of Bush's presidency have been supported, and sometimes even sponsored and defended, by McCain.
  2. McCain's newfound conservatism seems dishonest and politically-motivated. In 2000, when McCain ran against Bush in the primaries, I felt like McCain would be a great Republican candidate, and even suggested that I might vote for him. Like a lot of other people, I hoped that McCain would switch parties and run as a Democrat in 2004 – I believed then (and still believe now) that if he had done that, he would have won handily. However, political insiders evidently caught McCain's ear, no doubt clueing him in on the fact that he was seen as too moderate and too cozy with the Democrats for him to ever have success as a Republican presidential candidate. Since McCain clearly thought of himself as primarily a conservative, and since he still planned on another presidential run, he began a very obvious move toward the right, in an effort to shore up his support there. Where he had always been a strong moderate voice in the Senate, he suddenly became a puppet for the Bush administration, rubber-stamping damn near everything they did. He began pandering to the religious right and other right-wing lobbyists. And, of course, it has worked! He's now the Republican nominee and is strongly supported by most Republicans. I don't believe that would have been the case 8 years ago (in fact, it wasn't; McCain lost to Bush in the primaries in 2000).

    Despite this clear and obvious progression right, I haven't heard a word during this election season about "flip-flopping." Hmmm. How could dat be? Sort of like how in 2000 and 2004, when the Democrats ran military veterans both years, against a Republican who was not a veteran and whose state-side military service was seriously in question, there wasn't a SOUND from the Republicans about the importance of military service – which had seemingly been of such mighty and vast importance in the 1996 election between Clinton and Dole.

    Now, of course, if McCain's pandering to the right wing has just been politics, then perhaps I shouldn't be too concerned if he wins the presidency – maybe once he gets in the white house, he'll return to the moderate governing that had characterized his career prior to 2002 or so. But whether that happens or not (and I don't believe it will – he'll have a re-election to be concerned about, after all), the fact remains that his stance over the last 6 or 8 years has moved progressively right, and seems transparent, dishonest, and politically-motivated. I'm not sure I want someone in the white house who will vacillate like that to political pressure. Again, that determination and unwillingness to pander is an aspect of Obama that really draws me to him, and it stands in contrast to the transparent ideology McCain has spouted for the last 6 or 8 years.

  3. McCain turns 72 on August 29th. If elected, he will be the oldest first-term president in American history. He will be nearly 2 years older than Reagan was in 1980. This is a subject that frequently gets overlooked, largely – perhaps – because McCain has done a good job of hiding physical evidence of his age. Be that is it may, I think great consideration should be taken in voting for a man who is already 7 years past retirement age. That isn't to say that a septuagenarian can't adequately govern the country. But the American public absolutely must take into consideration the fact that before McCain's first term is over, he will already be older than the average age for males in America. One must also remember that McCain spent several years as a POW in Vietnam. I don't know what the life expectancy is of former Vietnam POW's, but I'm betting that McCain is probably already past it. One cannot underestimate the long-term physical and psychological impact of an experience like what McCain had in Vietnam. This makes his choice of vice-president even more important. Heaven-forbid he choose a radical like Dick Cheney. If I am thankful about anything in regards to the Bush presidency, it's that Bush has managed to survive it.
  4. I question whether McCain really is in touch with the heart of the American public. This, of course, was demonstrated none-too-subtly in recent comments about how he would describe a rich person as someone who made "$5 million a year" and was unable to answer the question of how many houses he owns. Does he really have a clue what the average, middle class American (much less lower class American) is really going through? Obama is wealthy too, of course, but he didn't grow up that way. McCain, on the other hand, was the son of a prominent navy Admiral, attended private boarding schools, and generally grew up as part of the upper-middle class. He's never known a "poor" day in his life (his POW experience notwithstanding).

When I add all these things together, Obama simply seems to be the clear and better choice. I think he is the better choice for me, personally, based on my worldviews, and I also think he is the better choice for the country as a whole. He is in touch with the average American, he is charismatic and intelligent, he has a good vision for the United States, and he can help repair our country's damaged reputation in the international community.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The 2008 Beijing Olympics

I've been watching the Olympics this year more than perhaps ever before. Growing up, and even into my early adulthood, I always enjoyed watching the Olympics, although I generally preferred the Winter Olympics to the Summer games. Still, I always have liked the major Summer events – swimming, diving, gymnastics, track & field, etc.

In 2004, I don't recall watching any of the Summer Olympics. That was the summer after Melanie and I had split up, and I was living in a crappy little apartment in Richmond with no cable. I could get a couple of the networks with my antenna, though no station was clear. I don't even remember whether I could get NBC or not – that's how rarely I ever watched television during that year. In fact, the only specific memory of seeing something on TV during that summer was when Phil Mickelson won the Master's – his first major. I did watch that on a Sunday afternoon, and I recall jumping for joy as he sank the last put, and subsequently banging my knuckles into the very low ceiling, scraping them.

I have no recollection whatsoever of watching the Olympics that year. A few days ago, after hearing a reference to Carly Patterson – who won the 2004 women's all-around gymnastics gold – I looked her up on the internet. Not only did I not recognize her name, I didn't recognize her face either.

This year is a different story. I've been almost obsessed with the Olympics this year, watching every night, and DVR'ing it when I haven't had time to watch. I saw all of Michael Phelps' races, and I've seen the vast majority of the gymnastics. In addition to Phelps, I saw most every other pool event, and am now watching the track & field and diving. I've even watched some doubles table tennis, rowing, boxing, and the marathon.

Funny story about the doubles table tennis thing: when I turned it on, the USA was playing in a semi-final against South Korea. Huang and Gao were very good. The South Koreans weren't bad either. Seriously though, it was funny to see the USA playing South Korea, and all four of them were Asian. Growing up, I attended a church that had a fairly large Korean population (there was a separate Korean church that met in our building, and many of them ended up just attending our church). My friends and I played a lot of ping pong and I came to realize that ping pong is a big sport in Asia – South Korea, anyway. They have an unusual way of holding the paddle, gripping it in the space between the thumb and forefinger and resting the handle on the side of the hand. In high school, we always referred to that as the "Korean grip." Sure enough, the two South Koreans were holding their paddles that way.

I was, of course, thrilled to watch all the Phelps events, although it began to grow tiresome after a while. NBC just milked that whole situation for all it was worth. And if I never see Phelps' mother again, it'll be too soon. I'm not sure who was the bigger star – him or her. I nearly died when they won the first team relay, coming from behind on the last 15 meters to beat the favored French team. And, of course, I sat in shock during the "Fingernail Finish" where Phelps' kept his gold dreams alive with a win by 1/100th of a second.

The women's gymnastics, however, is by far my favorite. What normal male isn't a fan of pretty girls running around half-nekkid? No, dear undercover police officer reader, I don't look at the ones under 18.

Seriously though, I've discovered that I've gotten too "emotionally" involved in the gymnastics this year. I care more than I should. Tonight, watching the hi-lo bar finals from last night (which I DVR'd), I literally found myself getting angry at the way Nastia Liuken was being scored, in comparison to the Chinese. I actually yelled at both the kids and Melanie, and realized later that I was taking my frustration with the Olympics out on them!

It just has seemed since the very start of this gymnastic competition that the Chinese are getting higher scores than they deserve, the Americans are – at least some of the time – getting lower scores than they deserved. The latter has happened a few times, but more than anything else, it's the Chinese getting these unreasonably high scores, over and over and over again. Yes, they are good. But their performance hasn't warranted all the scores and medals they've gotten. On the vault finals, the Chinese team leader, and a very prominent and successful gymnast – Cheng Fei – literally fell down on her second vault. She didn't stutter-step. Didn't hop. Didn't wobble and catch her balance. She literally landed on her hands and knees, almost face down. In addition to that, the replays and commentary showed that she had made a number of other dramatic technical mistakes in executing the vault – which is, of course, why her landing was so awful. Despite that, she not only beat out the American gymnast – who executed two very good vaults, easily landing them both – but she actually edged her out for a medal! The girl fell down on her landing, and committed a number of deductible mistakes besides that in her vault, and yet she still medaled.

When someone can nearly face-plant on the landing of a vault, and still get an Olympic medal, something's wrong. It makes a farce not only of that competition, not only of gymnastics in general, but of all the Olympics. It's honestly one of the most insane things I've ever seen in any Olympic games. And the fact that her unfairly high score also caused her to edge out the American chick, who executed her vaults very well, just makes it all the worse.

It really isn't a "my country vs. their country" thing though. Those of you who know me know that patriotism and nationalism aren't my shtick. I consider myself first and foremost a citizen of the world, and I also happen to be an American. But of course I root for the Americans, and feel good when they win. However, to simply see, night after night, the Chinese gymnasts getting unreasonably high scores, despite glaring mistakes, you have to start wondering what's going on. They've argued on NBC over and over that there is no "home field advantage" because it's not like the judges are all Chinese. In fact, the judging is set up so that there are no judges from the same country of any gymnast who is performing. They are constantly being switched in and out to prevent that potential bias. But that means that judges may be sitting in on just a few performances a night, and may not be as well-trained as others. Furthermore, I think it's clear that crowd support has some kind of subconscious influence on the judging. There can simply be no other explanation for how the Chinese have put up some of the scores they've put up.

And that's not even touching on the issue of the fact that they are all about 10 years old, and underage to be performing.

Anyway, that's my Olympic blog. I guess I'll end up sleep deprived for the rest of the week, until these things are over. Not sure what has caused me to get so involved this year, as opposed to years' past when I have always preferred the Winter Olympics and have never spent a great deal of time with the Summer Olympics. I guess NBC's hype of the American gymnasts and Michael Phelps drew me in. I'm just a pawn of NBC.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Homosexuality and the New Testament

INTRODUCTION

Homosexuality has become one of the “hot topics” of modern politics. For a politician in the 21st century, their stance on homosexuality in general, and gay marriage in particular, defines who they are as much as the stance on segregation defined politicians in the 1950’s and 60’s.

In many Christian churches, homosexual acts are considered sinful. For these kinds of Christians, even arguments about the nature of homosexuality – choice or predisposition – are irrelevant. Whether a person is born homosexual or chooses homosexuality, it is not the orientation that is sinful, but the act. Thus, homosexuals can be accepted into these sorts of congregations if they renounce their sexual urges and do not engage in homosexual unions. Practicing homosexuals, however, live in a perpetual state of sin, and can therefore not take part in the kingdom of God (which is a fancy way of saying they cannot be “saved”).

Christians who believe in the sinfulness of homosexuality base their beliefs on the teachings of the Bible. But does the Bible – and the New Testament specifically – really teach against homosexuality, as we understand it today?

Many Christians may not realize just how infrequently the topic of homosexuality is discussed in the New Testament. In fact, the word “homosexual” is only mentioned once in the New International Version (twice if you are reading some other English versions). In addition to this, there is a passage in the book of Romans that discusses homosexual acts. In the Gospels, Jesus never mentions homosexuality. It is anyone’s guess what his opinion might have been, but it clearly was not a subject that was a vital enough part of his teaching career for it to have seeped into the collective consciousness of those who wrote his story down in the generations after his death. As such, the Christian concept of the sinful nature of homosexuality comes from no more than three spots in the New Testament, together with several teachings in the Old Testament.

OLD TESTAMENT TEACHINGS

There can be no doubt that the Old Testament explicitly teaches about the sinfulness of homosexuality. However, it also teaches that homosexuals should be put to death, women and children can be traded like cattle, fires of any type must be authorized by God, women must be ritually purified after menstruation or childbirth (the cleansing period is longer if the child is a girl), and men must bathe after any emission of semen and enter an unclean period until sundown.

Most anytime that a skeptic or non-Christian brings up the shocking rules and rituals of the Old Testament, Christians will defend themselves by reminding the skeptic that the Old Testament represents the old covenant. When Jesus came to the earth, he did away with the old covenant laws and brought about a new covenant.

Since one cannot reject, without being hypocritical, the inconvenient parts of the Old Testament (ritual uncleanness after an emission of semen, for instance) yet simultaneously accept Old Testament teachings against things like homosexuality; and since traditional Christianity believes Jesus did away with Old Testament laws, the crux of this essay will focus on the teachings of homosexuality in the New Testament, as that is the covenant of concern to Christians.

NEW TESTAMENT TEACHINGS

As mentioned above, the New Testament has only two, possibly three, explicit spots that discuss homosexuality. These spots are the first chapter of Romans, the first chapter of 1 Timothy, and the sixth chapter of 1 Corinthians. All of these books are traditionally attributed to Paul.

In the passage in 1 Corinthians, Paul states: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders…” (1 Corinthians 6:9, NIV).

In Romans, Paul gets a little more explicit. He states: “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” (Romans 1:26-27, NIV).

Depending on translation, the passage in 1 Timothy reads: “The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality…” (1 Timothy 1:10, NLT).

And there you have the entirety of the New Testament’s explicit teachings on homosexuality.

The more generalized “sexual immorality” is much more prevalent in the New Testament, along with teachings against adultery. Jesus speaks about both adultery and sexual immorality; the early Church leaders, as depicted in Acts, discussed sexual immorality and even sent a letter to the Gentiles warning against it (Acts 15:29); in the 13 letters traditionally attributed to Paul, there are about 10 different discussions of sexual immorality or sexual sin, including incest; finally, a number of other New Testament books – most notably Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation – variously discuss topics of sexual immorality, adultery, and “perversion.”

Since words and phrases like “sexual immorality” and “perversion” are so vague, it is up to the reader to determine exactly what an individual writer might have had in mind in any individual passage. Folks who take issue with homosexuality would no doubt read homosexual acts into “sexual immorality” and/or “perversion.” But doing so, of course, is adding words to the text that are not there. We simply cannot know exactly what the various writers of the New Testament might have specifically had in mind when they talked about sexual immorality. Presumably, any sex act not between a man and a woman in marriage would have been sexually immoral to the New Testament writers. But does sexual immorality or perversion seep into marriage, as well? Are there limits to what a married couple can do in the privacy of their own bedroom? Where is the line drawn?

Well, I trust you see my point. Words and phrases like “sexually immoral” and “perversion” are simply too vague to imply precisely what was meant by the 1st century Jewish writers of the New Testament. These terms might have included homosexuality, they might have included certain sex acts within marriage, they might have included simple adultery – we just cannot know for certain. Thus, any assertions based on these teachings would be interpretive at best and agenda-driven at worst.

For this reason, I think it is most important to focus on the texts that tell us, explicitly, that homosexuality is wrong. Those are the only texts we can legitimately rely on as evidence of the sinfulness, in God’s eyes, of homosexual acts.

1 CORINTHIANS

1 Corinthians 6:9 (NIV) warns against male prostitutes and homosexual offenders. These people, the text tells us, cannot inherit the kingdom of God.

But are these phrases – “male prostitutes” and “homosexual offenders” – accurate translations of the original Greek words used in the text?

First, let’s look out how other English versions translate the words in question.

New American Standard: “effeminate” and “homosexuals.”

King James Version: “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind.”

English Standard Version: the first word is skipped all together, and the passage simply says, “men who practice homosexuality.”

American Standard Version: “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with men.”

Wycliffe New Testament (one of the earliest English translations): “lechers against kind” and “they that do lechery with men.”

New Revised Standard Version: “male prostitutes” and “sodomites.” (Sodomy is defined by most dictionaries as anal sex between two men, anal sex between a man and a woman, or human sex with animals – it does not include non-penetrating sex acts, between members of the same gender or otherwise.)

Thus, if we go by the various English translations, we may come to believe that simply being an effeminate man (whether gay or straight) is enough to keep one out of the kingdom of God. For most people – even many conservative Christians – this would be a tough pill to swallow. Little wonder that most translations either skip this part all together, or change it to “male prostitute.” Furthermore, we may assume that only anal sex is actually sinful – meaning that gay relationships where no penetration is taking place are permissible. Thus, two lesbians, or two gay men, living together but not having penetrating anal sex, would not be sinning, and would still be able to inherit the kingdom of God.

But are any of these phrases accurate translations of the actual Greek words used in the text?

“MALE PROSTITUTES”

One of the first questions that arises when looking at the original Greek is why Paul would have referred to both male prostitutes and homosexuals. Doesn’t male prostitution fall under the banner of homosexuality? Can a man be a male prostitute and not be homosexual? Not unless he is a male prostitute for women only. But if that were the case, he would be more like a gigolo, not a male prostitute. “Male prostitute” implies a man prostituting himself to other men. Nature has made it rather difficult for a man to be a true prostitute for multiple women.

For this reason, the translations that use “effeminate” may be more accurate. Whereas one cannot be a male prostitute and not also be homosexual, one can be effeminate and not be homosexual. Furthermore, difficult as it may be to accept for the modern Christian, the Greek wording suggests that Paul, in fact, may have been referring to effeminate men. The change to “male prostitute” was done to soften this teaching.

The Greek word used in the passage is “malakos.” This word means something like “limp” or “soft” or “feathery.” In fact, it is a very common word in ancient Greek texts (secular as well as Biblical), and its meaning is very clear. It might refer to soft, satiny clothes, or a gentle breeze, for instance. It does not have any relationship whatsoever to the phrase “male prostitute” or “one who gets penetrated.”

Malakos is used three other times in the New Testament, though never again by Paul. Both Matthew and Luke include the word, with Matthew repeating it twice in the same sentence, and each time it is translated as “soft” and is referencing a garment.

One can see how “soft,” “limp,” and “feathery” could be used to mean “effeminate,” but it most certainly did not refer to a male prostitute. In fact, there is another perfectly good ancient Greek word that Paul could have used: kinaedos, which refers to a man who is penetrated by another man. Paul would have used this word if that is, in fact, what he meant.

The context in which Paul uses the word is clearly one that references a behavior. Obviously Paul is not talking about soft clothes or gentle breezes. In that sense, it is clear that Paul was using the word the same way that many other ancient Greek writers used the word when talking about behaviors – it referred to a “weakling” or a “pretty boy,” or someone who was vacillating and shallow. It was, in fact, a word that represented common ancient perceptions of women. Dale B. Martin, a professor of Religious Studies at Yale University and an expert on ancient sexuality, states that malakos means: “something perceived as ‘soft’: laziness, degeneracy, decadence, lack of courage, or, to sum up all these vices in one ancient category, the feminine.”

As such, Paul is clearly suggesting that effeminate men – that is, men who take on the weak, vacillating traits of women – cannot inherit the kingdom of God. The fact that modern translations have intentionally changed this word to “male prostitute,” or left it out all together, is evidence of changing perceptions in society. Older English translations almost universally use the word “effeminate” or something similar. But, as I pointed out above, for modern people, the idea that effeminate men are doomed to hell, like any other wicked sinner, is a tough pill to swallow even for many conservative Christians. For that reason, translations of the last 50 years or so have almost universally changed “effeminate” into “male prostitute,” or left it out all together. What they are doing, then, is making the original text a bit more palatable to modern sensibilities. This is evidenced in 20th century translations such as the New International Version, the New Revised Standard Version, and even the New King James Version.

Again, Dale B. Martin: “There is no historical reason to take malakos as a specific reference to the penetrated man in homosexual intercourse. It is even less defensible to narrow that reference down further to mean ‘male prostitute.’ The meaning of the word is clear…malakos means ‘effeminate.’”

Martin goes on to say:

“Today, effeminacy may be perceived as a quaint or distasteful personal mannerism, but the prissy church musician or stereotyped interior designer is not, merely on the basis of a limp wrist, to be considered fuel for hell. For most English-speaking Christians in the twentieth century, effeminacy may be unattractive, but it is not a sin. Their Bibles could not be allowed to condemn so vociferously something that was a mere embarrassment. So the obvious translation of malakos as ‘effeminate’ was jettisoned.”

“HOMOSEXUAL OFFENDERS”

The second word at issue in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is generally translated in English versions as “homosexual” or something very similar. In Greek, it is “arsenkoites.” However, unlike our first word – malakos – which has a clear and almost universally understood ancient meaning, “arsenkoites” is perplexing. In fact, it is never used in any surviving ancient Greek manuscripts prior to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. This is significant, because there are literally thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of examples of ancient Greek writings available to modern historians. The fact that the word never appears until Paul’s letters suggests very strongly that Paul, himself, coined the word.

For this reason, the word has caused a lot of headaches for translators over the years. The earliest English translation – the Wycliffe – translates arsenkoites into a phrase: “they that do lechery with men.” Later translations, such as the Tyndale and the King James, more or less stick with this convoluted form (“abusers of themselves with mankind”). These translations stood more or less unchecked until the 20th century, when modern psychological ideas of sexual orientation began to take root. Thus, newer English editions began to use “homosexuals” and “homosexual offenders” and “practicing homosexuals” (the latter being used, clearly, to differentiate between those who simply have a homosexual orientation, and those who have the orientation, and also act on it).

The problem with this is twofold: first, there is much speculation about what arsenkoites actually means (more on that later), and second, changing “abusers of themselves with mankind” into “homosexual” is adding something to the English text that was not originally present. The word “homosexual” implies a specifically understood sexual orientation – men attracted to men, and women attracted to women. But that is not what the early English translations imply. Someone who commits sexual sin with another person (that is, someone who “abuses” themselves with “mankind”), is not necessarily a homosexual, or even committing homosexual acts.

But were those early English versions accurate in how they translated the Pauline-invented word “arsenkoites”?

Arsenkoites comes from two root words – arsen and koites, meaning “man” and “bed.” By combining the meaning of these two words, most translators assume the word has some reference to homosexuals, particularly in relation to the previous word – malakos – which means, as we have seen, “effeminate.” However, there is a basic fallacy involved in this. As Dale B. Martin points out, the word “understand” does not mean “to stand under.” Martin goes on to point out that this is even truer for words that denote a social rank or standing: “None of us, for example, takes the word ‘chairman’ to have any necessary reference to a chair, even if it originally did.” For Martin, then, defining arsenkoites by the meaning of its root words is a “na├»ve and indefensible” method. Even if the word can be accurately translated by its roots, there is no way to demonstrate that this method is reliable.

This problem becomes even more pronounced when one considers the root words in question – “man” and “bed.” There is no more reason to suppose that “manbed” means a man lying in bed with another man than there is to suppose it means any person, man or woman, lying in a man’s bed. In fact, there were perfectly adequate words in the ancient Greek lexicon to refer to either of these situations – moicheia (adultery) and porneia (male or female prostitution). Furthermore, the Greek word paiderasste meant, quite literally, men having sex with men. There is no reason to suppose that Paul would not have used this word if, in fact, male-on-male sex is what he had meant. The fact that he instead coined his own word is evidence that he meant something quite different than male homosexuality.

But what could he have meant? There have been many ideas thrown about, including references to pimping, masturbating, and ritual pagan sex. The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1967, for instance, translates the word as “masturbator.” Non-canonical Christian texts of the 2nd and 3rd centuries borrow Paul’s word and employ it in the sense of a pimp, or someone who exploits sex economically. Furthermore, many of these texts also list sexual sins, and fail to ever use the word in that context.

What it boils down to is that no one can know with certainly what Paul meant when he used the word arsenkoites. The problem, then, arises when some folks do make the assertion that the word “obviously” means homosexuals. Once again, Dale B. Martin: “The more important question, I think, is why some scholars are certain it refers to simple male-male sex in the face of evidence to the contrary. Perhaps ideology has been more important than philology.”

On a final note, there is one other spot in the New Testament where the word arsenkoites appears. This is the aforementioned verse in 1 Timothy. This letter, though traditionally attributed to Paul, is believed by many scholars to have been written much later than Paul’s life, by someone who simply invoked Paul’s name for authoritative purposes. Curiously, many modern English translations do not translate the word the same way in this passage. Recall, for instance, that the NIV translates the word as “homosexual offenders” in the 1 Corinthians passage. However, in the passage in 1 Timothy, it translates the same word as “perverts.” The King James switches from “abusers of themselves with mankind” in 1 Corinthians to “them that defile themselves with mankind” in the passage in 1 Timothy. The Revised Standard Version translates the word as “sexual perverts” in 1 Corinthians, but “sodomites” in 1 Timothy. These changes in translations simply provide evidence of that fact that no one can be certain what the word meant.

Furthermore, the passage in 1 Timothy combines arsenkoites with the Greek word pornos. This word refers to prostitution, either male or female, and is often translated as “fornicators.” In this passage, the writer of 1 Timothy gives a long list of sins, and these two words are the only two that are of a sexual nature. Used together, one after the other, and going with the knowledge that pornos meant prostitution of either male or female kind, it makes a lot better sense to suppose that arsenkoites in that context meant a pimp – or one who makes money off the fornicating prostitutes – than to assume it meant “homosexual.”

Putting all of these pieces of evidence together, I believe a reasonable assertion can be made that 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, which have frequently been pointed to by conservative Christians as evidence of the Bible’s teachings against homosexuality, may not actually be talking about homosexuality in the modern sense at all. It seems at the very least possible, if not perhaps probable, that Paul was referring to a 1st century version of a pimp when he talked about arsenkoites. This also makes sense in the context of Paul coining his own word – there is no known word for “pimp” in the ancient Greek lexicon; there were words for homosexuals and prostitutes, however.

Additionally, I believe it can be asserted with confidence that the word translated most commonly as “male prostitute” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 actually meant “effeminate” or something similar. This is a case where earlier English translations – though normally not as accurate as modern translations – appear to have actually gotten it right. Either way, there can be no question that malakos was not referring to a “male prostitute.”

ROMANS

But what about the passage in Romans, which explicitly talks about men having sex with men, and women having sex with women? Even if we can assert that Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy were not talking about homosexuals, there can be no doubt that he was referring to homosexual sex in Romans. As we saw earlier, Paul refers to men and women giving up natural relations and becoming consumed with passion for members of their own sex.

Clearly, Paul is talking about homosexual sex. But do Paul’s words condemn homosexuality as we understand it today – a biological orientation causing a person to seek out partners from their own gender, and ignore, from a sexual standpoint, members of the opposite gender?

First, it is important to understand what homosexuality meant to the average Jew living in the Roman Empire in the 1st century. There was no concept of “sexual orientation.” That idea was not introduced to the world until the 19th century. For Jews, it was well-established by the 1st century that homosexuality was an abomination that only idol-worshipping pagans and enemies of God engaged in. Homosexuality was not defined by gay couples entering monogamous partnerships and living together; homosexuality was defined by “normal” people engaging in illicit sex with members of their own gender. There were no gay nightclubs and gay singles dating services. If people engaged in homosexuality, it was done extramaritally. Homosexuals were married people who had children, but who also had gay lovers on the side, “apprentices,” or engaged in ritual homosexual sex acts during religious services. Furthermore, homosexuality was a common “fetish” among the wealthy and powerful, with governors and senators and even emperors fulfilling fetishes through pedophilia and homosexuality. This defined homosexuality in 1st century Rome. There simply was no such thing as a gay couple living together monogamously like husband and wife. It just did not happen.

With that in mind, how should we approach Paul’s teachings in Romans? First, we must remember that Paul was writing to the Romans – that is, the Christian community in Rome. In Rome, the heart of the empire, Christians were under serious threat of influence by the pagan religions of Rome – particularly since most of these Christians were converts from paganism to start with. Paul was extremely concerned about this, and his concern is what ultimately led to the anti-homosexual teachings in question.

Let’s take a look at the passage in context.

In one of the first paragraphs of his letter, Paul states: “I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gifts to strengthen you…” He is concerned for their spiritual strength, no doubt in light of pagan influences. He implies that, perhaps, pagans in Rome were causing Christians to feel ashamed for abandoning the old gods. To counteract this, he states: “I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.”

At this point in his letter, Paul begins warning the Romans about the wrath of God against those who reject God (that is, the pagans). “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness…” From here, he points out that evidence for God is plain for all people to see. This evidence, Paul asserts, has been obvious since the beginning of time in nature. “Ever since the creation of the world, [God’s] eternal power and divine nature…have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” People who reject God, then, are doing so willfully and with full knowledge. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.” That is, pagans rejected God and began worshipping idols made in the image of humans and animals. This is a clear and obvious reference to pagan nature gods. The four-footed animals and reptiles were particularly offensive to Jews, because these animals were unclean.

As a result of this rejection of God, Paul tells us that “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves.” In other words, their rejection of God led them to commit degrading actions with their bodies.

At this point, Paul makes the statement that is in question in this essay: “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.”

After this, Paul asserts that: “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done.” And then comes a famous “tirade” against all pagans: “They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree – that those who practice such things deserve to die – yet they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them.”

This passage, of course, has helped give Paul a reputation for intolerance. Those who do not believe in God are the most debased, evil, twisted people imaginable! Paul’s purpose, however, in using this hyperbole is clear – don’t let yourselves be influenced by the enormous pagan culture around you!

In context, it becomes quite clear what Paul was talking about when he mentioned women together with women, and men together with men. In ancient Rome, ritual religious sex was very common. Inside pagan temples dedicated to gods and goddesses of love and beauty, ritual sex acts were carried out as a form of worshipping the deity in question. This existed not only in ancient Rome, but most every ancient culture. These worship services included a variety of ritual sex acts, both “heterosexual” and “homosexual” in nature. It was a way for ancient pagan worshippers to honor human sexuality religiously – they were honoring their gods with their bodies. In some cultures, including Rome, organized fertility cults even sprang up around certain deities, where the primary mode of worship was ritual sex. For these believers, they were not committing abominations; instead, they were celebrating and glorifying the human body.

Celebration of the human body, of course, was anathema to the ancient Jews, including Jewish Christians like Paul. Jews believed that the human body was frail and imperfect. Even drawing pictures, or building statues, of human bodies was against Jewish law. Jewish Christians believed that only Jesus could save this frail, imperfect body from eternal destruction.

It is little wonder, then, that Paul, and those like him, had a particularly harsh opinion of pagan sex cults, where the human body was glorified, celebrated, and indulged.

These sex cults, then, represent the target of Paul’s ire in the first chapter of Romans. Paul had no idea what was going on in the privacy of people’s homes. He is talking about public ritual sex acts in pagan temples. “Men committed shameless acts with men.”

The idea of a biological sexual “orientation” would have been as foreign to Paul as computed tomography. He was not condemning modern gay couples living monogamously; he was not suggesting that those who are gay are incapable of inheriting the kingdom of God. The people Paul is talking about in Romans were heterosexuals who “gave up” their natural inclination in order to commit ritual sex acts for the benefit of pagan gods. And that is the key to understanding Paul’s theology. Paul was not opposed to homosexuality simply because it was somehow inherently evil. Paul was opposed to homosexuality because it was pagan. As Paul’s “tirade” displays, anything that pagans did was, by definition, ungodly and evil.

Besides historical context, clues in the text also lead to the conclusion that Paul was specifically talking about pagan fertility cults. Paul states that these people “worshipped and served a creature [that is, a pagan god] rather than the Creator.” It is at this very point that Paul begins talking about homosexuality. Clearly, when understood in context, Paul was saying that these homosexual acts were done as part of the worship of a pagan god. Furthermore, as I have implied above, Paul says that “men committed shameless acts with men.” These could only have been public acts, as Paul certainly did not know what people were doing in the privacy of their homes in the city of Rome. Ritual temple sex was a public act, and everyone knew about it. Finally, Paul gives a very obvious clue when he says that the men who committed shameless acts “received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” This may seem unclear at first glance, but what Paul is saying is that the people who committed these “sins” got STD’s! They “received in their own persons” – that is, inside their own bodies – their “due penalty.” It is a known fact that sexually-transmitted diseases were common within ancient pagan fertility cults.

CONCLUSION

Homosexuality is a normal, and most likely biological, sexual orientation that affects a large portion of any given population at any given time. Furthermore, many studies indicate that human sexual orientation is not nearly as “black and white” as many modern people like to think. Sexual orientation is a scale, with some people on either end, and most people somewhere in between. That is not to say that most people are “bisexual,” but simply that many people, in the right situation, could consider homosexuality (or, for the homosexual, could consider heterosexuality). This is demonstrated within cultures that do not have the kind of anti-homosexual bias that much of the Western world has. It is no secret, for instance, that homosexuality was common and widespread in ancient Greece – a culture that did not frown upon homosexuality.

The New Testament has only one explicit teaching against homosexuality, and this teaching, as I have shown, is specifically geared toward ritual sex acts – that is, pagan fertility cult worship. The only other spots in the New Testament traditionally believed to contain teachings against homosexuality use ambiguous wording and context, and most likely are not talking about homosexuality at all. Whatever the writers’ intent in using those words, the intent is ambiguous enough that any assertions about homosexuality, based on those passages, are fraught with uncertainties, and are therefore unreliable – particularly on such an important topic as the future of someone’s eternal soul. In fact, the only thing we can take reliably from those passages is that effeminate men – whether straight or gay – are doomed to hell!

In the end, there simply is nothing explicit and reliable in the New Testament to support anti-homosexual bias, or the belief that homosexuals, by virtue of actions based on their very nature, are destined for destruction. Anyone who makes such an assertion is either ignorant of the very texts which they call holy and infallible, or is intellectually dishonest.

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