Thursday, March 24, 2005

Death and Blood: The NAE's Version of Answered Prayer

When a friend told me about what follows, I didn't want to believe it. An article entitled "Do the Prayers of Evangelicals Impact World Events?" ends up claiming that good Christian folk helped American bombs and bullets find their target: Saddam Hussein's two sons. This 2003 article sits in plain sight on the National Association of Evangelicals' main website, from the Office of the NAE's President yet, and once again illustrates the disconnect for many biblically-rooted Christians between evangelicalism's version of American nationalism dressed as Christian faith and the real thing.

"Did prayer have something to do with the 'impossible' feat of Saddam Hussein' sons being killed in a firefight on Wednesday July 23, 2003?" the article begins, and continues, "Mosul, the city where Uday and Ousay Hussein were killed, was the most heavily targeted area by praying Christians using Operation Iraqi Care (OIC), a global prayer effort coordinated by the National Association of Evangelicals and the World Prayer Team."

The NAE is one of evangelicalism's most well-known entities, and in the past has shown the ability to be moderate politically. However, in recent years, as with much of evangelicalism, the NAE has drifted further and further toward the right and a surprisingly naive alliance with American corporate / military policy. In short, the NAE seems to be confusing Christianity with nationalism.

After a few paragraphs discussing how various Christians prayed over Mosul, giving it more prayer concentration than other cities, the punchline sounds like the worst sort of fundamentalist aberrations of Islam:

"God works in wonderful and mysterious ways. Operation Iraqi Care is one tool that He is using to bring peace and democracy to Iraq and to pave the way for the proclamation of the gospel and the spread of the evangelical church. Thousands of people have been mobilized to pray; the majority somehow chose Mosul and almost simultaneously we see tangible results in the death of Saddam's sons. Coincidence?"

Doubtless the answer to the above is supposed to be "No, it was prayer!" And of course, that response in turn means we are supposed to assume a number of things:

1. That our role in Iraq as a military power is part of God's work rather than fallen man's violent history of power-mongering.
2. That killing two human beings is something God wanted to do, and wanted us to do in His Name!
3. That part of our reason for being militarily in Iraq -- PAY ATENTION!! -- is to create an environment there where our religion can be spread and gain influence. THIS IS A RETURN TO THE CRUSADES. THIS IS THE MAKING OF RELIGIOUS WAR. And it is not Christian; not one Bible verse comes to mind that would justify making bloody, hellish war where thousands of innocent Iraqis, along with combatants on both sides, die in the name of the Prince of Peace.
4. That American military policies are, nearly without question, the will of God.

I find these ideas horrendous and blasphemous. Until the NAE removes this posting from its site, and apologizes for suggesting such vile things, I suggest we inundate them (and any media sources we can find to tell this story) with email. They offer this information at article's end: "For additional comments or interviews please contact: Kyle Fisk, NAE Executive Administrator / (719) 268-8211" Please, email Mr. Fisk. And email all your friends, Christian, Muslim, or pondering observer. Ask them to also let the NAE know why this sort of Christianity sounds more like Satanism than a religion worshipping a God of Love.


Another commentary on this article has come to my attention.


The original article in its entirety is pasted below, along with the URL from whence it came:

The URL:
Do the Prayers of Evangelicals Impact World Events

Office of the President - Public Relations Department


Do The Prayers of Evangelicals Impact World Events?

Did prayer have something to do with the "impossible" feat of Saddam Hussein' sons being killed in a firefight on Wednesday July 23, 2003? Mosul, the city where Uday and Ousay Hussein were killed, was the most heavily targeted area by praying Christians using Operation Iraqi Care (OIC), a global prayer effort coordinated by the National Association of Evangelicals and the World Prayer Team.

OIC is one of the evangelical responses to help the people of Iraq following the war and removal of the dictator, who had for decades oppressed the Iraqi people. Individuals, families, churches, organizations and others can "adopt" an Iraqi town and pray specifically over that region, its people, its rebuilding and for the Christians within that city. Since its inception only a few months ago, OIC has mobilized thousands of Christians to bathe the country of Iraq in concentrated prayer.

Out of dozens of potential cities to adopt, over fifteen percent of our thousands of prayer warriors adopted the city of Mosul, compared with less than nine percent adopting Tikrit and just over eleven percent praying for the capital, Baghdad.

According to Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times, the death of Hussein' sons "ay diminish but not eliminate attacks that have killed 40 American soldiers since President Bush declared the end of major combat on May 1." In another editorial, the Times proclaimed this as "the most encouraging news out of Iraq in weeks." There is additional speculation that Saddam himself, may be in the same region of Iraq. Is this simply an odd circumstance or is God moving through the prayers of His people?

God works in wonderful and mysterious ways. Operation Iraqi Care is one tool that He is using to bring peace and democracy to Iraq and to pave the way for the proclamation of the gospel and the spread of the evangelical church. Thousands of people have been mobilized to pray; the majority somehow chose Mosul and almost simultaneously we see tangible results in the death of Saddam's sons. Coincidence?

For additional comments or interviews please contact:
Kyle Fisk, NAE Executive Administrator
(719) 268-8211

Run for Change with Team CCO!

TEAM CCO - Run for a Cause!

Skelter for Shelter and Run for Change!
Team CCO is Looking for Runners

by Members of the Cornerstone Community Outreach shelter program

As of 2005, CCO (Cornerstone Community Outreach) has officially launched our charity athletics Team CCO. The LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon has accepted CCO as an official LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon charity. Currently, we are in the beginning stages of doing two things:

[1] Finding the runners, nationwide, who have the calling and the guts to come to Chicago on October 9, 2005, and run The LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon. If you're a runner, what better motivation than running for yourself and for others? We ask that you register through our charity rather than registering online via The LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon site; this capability will be enabled very soon. Until then, you can email teamcco @ with questions or wanting to sign up.

[2] Finding the sponsors, nationwide, who want to support both the athletes and the cause of aiding homeless women, children, and families. Get involved by sponsoring a runner of your choice as she/he runs toward the goal of ending the cycle of poverty and homelessness.

More details will soon be added here as well as the soon to be posted TeamCCO website. If you are interested in either running or being a sponsor, or in volunteering in another capacity, please email (after removing the bracketed portion):


Friday, March 18, 2005

Visiting Palestine This Weekend? Got a Donkey?

If you're visiting Palestine before or on Palm Sunday, maybe you could see about renting a donkey. Why? Keep reading...


They Don't Shoot Donkeys Do They?
Prepping the Palm Sunday March against Occupation
by Greg Moses
March 18, 2005

In the few days before Palm Sunday, Hasam Jubran has a lot to do. As co-director of the Peace and Reconciliation Department for the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem, much work falls on his shoulders to make sure things go well when Palestinian children begin a peace march to Jerusalem. First, there are the children themselves who thought up the idea. Then there are the adults from Palestine, Europe, and the USA who will carry the march into an Israeli checkpoint where delicate strategic decisions must be made. And finally, who can forget the donkeys?

“The idea came a long time ago,” says Jubran via telephone. Children listening to the story of Jesus riding a donkey to Jerusalem thought it would be great if they could do what Jesus did. “One of the kids mentioned the idea to one of our volunteers. She came to us and suggested that we do a Palm Sunday action on the day that Jesus came in peace to Jerusalem. By riding donkeys on the road we could encourage children to express their desire and symbolize the need of all Palestinians, but especially children, to travel to Jerusalem.” The idea was communicated to John Stoner, founder of Every Church a Peace Church in the USA. “After that,” says Jubran, “they started to consult with us.”

About forty days ago, Jubran helped to form a committee that would work on the shape of the protest. Other organizations in the area were invited, and meetings during the past two weeks have intensified. “One of the first questions to come up was should we invite Israelis to participate in the action,” says Jubran. “But in this action we decided to show that the Palestinian people are involved in nonviolence, leading their own nonviolence movement, so we did not invite Israelis this time.”

I ask Jubran if he has a model of nonviolence that guides his work. For him the most important consideration lies in the distinction between the spiritual side and the pragmatic side of nonviolence. “We focus on the pragmatic side here when we work with people on the ground,” explains Jubran. For theory he draws on Gandhi, King, Islam, and Christianity alike. “I don't stick to one thing. It's multiple.” Likewise, the international participants will be Christian, Muslim, and Jewish. Palestinians will be Christian and Muslim. “We do not want to limit this action to any religious faith. This is a national movement, not a religious one.”

Duties have been divided up. Invitations have been distributed throughout Palestine. Training has begun. A sign-making committee will work on Saturday. And yes, there is someone in charge of donkeys. The Palm Sunday action is unique for its involvement of animals. Of course, dogs were made famous in news pictures that came out of Birmingham, Alabama during the Civil Rights struggle of 1963. But in that case the animals were put to work on the violent side.

“This is unusual,” says Jubran, with a quiet chuckle. “The most difficult part is finding the donkeys and being able to protect them. But the donkeys are important to the image we want to show the world and the commentary we want to make. When people see the picture, we want them to relate it to Jesus and his message for peace in the Holy Lands.”

As Easter draws near, donkey images infiltrate the news. Says Linda Wardle, wife of Rev. John Wardle of Priory Church in Bridlington, England, “We've had a donkey for quite a few years and they do make a difference on Palm Sunday, especially for the children.” In a Passion Play at Nauvoo, Illinois, Jesus has been riding a live donkey to the stage since 1983. And a farewell sermon recently preached in Tennessee had the Baptist pastor declaring, “I am the donkey!”

Or who has not picked up the story of Pacho the donkey, jailed by Colombian authorities on March 6 for the crime of being hit by a drunken motorcyclist. “The suspect was a little long in the face after being arrested and is braying for an early release,” wrote AP reporter Kim Housego. For three days, Pacho's loyal master brought him food, while human rights defenders agitated for release. When Pacho was freed the international press cheered. Who in the world doesn't love a donkey?

But where to get donkeys for a peace march? “People who are going to bring their donkeys were afraid the animals might be shot. So they wanted guarantees,” says Jubran. “For these farmers, their donkeys are important to their work. So we have made guarantees. And yes, the farmers will be there with the donkeys,” he says with a quiet laugh. “I don't know how to handle them!”

Children also require special arrangements. “We have many, many children coming,” says Jubran, “a hundred or more, and for the children the demonstration will be organized in two parts. The younger children, 5-10 years old, will leave the demonstration as soon as we come close to the checkpoint. The teenagers are going to continue with the march, but they will move to the final end, not in the first rows or the middle. They have been trained how to protect themselves in case they are attacked, but if there is any trouble at the front end of the march, they have been trained to run away. We have made arrangements for first aid and ambulances and we have alerted local hospitals, but we don't want any children to be hurt. That's the main thing.”

At least half the marchers will be women says Jubran, but once again as a precaution, women will not approach the checkpoint in the first line. “We don't want any women to be beaten or hurt or humiliated in any way, because that may spark emotions that cause people to lose control.”

Marchers in solidarity with the Palestinians will come from USA, Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain. Two organizations will do the training for international marchers. Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has been working in nearby Hebron since 1995 and has experience training Americans for local activism. The Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People (PCR) has a working relationship with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and therefore has been exposed to a variety of nationalities in peace work and nonviolence resistance.

On Saturday, after separate training has been completed for Palestinians and international marchers, everyone will be brought together. “We have things we want to accomplish on Saturday,” says Jubran, “but we want people to participate so we don't have a clear agenda. We will sit together all of us, Palestinians and internationals, and we will think of the best way to do things. Important also is the process, not just the activity by itself. Nonviolence is something we have practiced for years, and now we are trying it again. We will try to strengthen ourselves.”

Greg Moses is editor of Peacefile and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. He can be reached at:

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Two Years Later, Let's Talk about Rachel Corrie

Deaths in the Middle East -- especially in Palestine -- seem somehow beneath our level of sight. Despite the fact that a significant number of Christian Palestinians are suffering, and despite the fact that Palestine holds Bethlehem, the cradle of our faith, we seem unable to see those there as real.

What about a young American girl who did have eyes to see and ears to hear, and who paid the ultimate price for heeding those sights and sounds? Let Christian Zionists consider the below, and gently, perhaps only to themselves, wonder.



March 16, 2005
The Killing of Rachel Corrie
Amnesty International Urges Rice to Support Independent Investigation

(Washington, DC) -- Observing the two-year anniversary of the killing of Rachel Corrie on March 16, 2003, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) today called on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to support an independent investigation of her death. Corrie, a US citizen, was apparently trying to stop the demolition of a Palestinian building in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip when an Israeli army bulldozer ran her over, crushing her to death.

Amnesty International believes that investigations into Corrie's death, conducted by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), failed to resolve contradictions between the official IDF position and eyewitness testimonies. Although this year's Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel agreed, stating bluntly that "U.S. officials who have seen the IDF report found inconsistencies among the statements of the people involved in the accident and other witnesses," there is no indication that the US has sought further investigation of these inconsistencies. While the US government has assisted in the investigations into cases of US citizens killed by Palestinian armed groups, it has failed to do so in Corrie's case, raising the appearance of a double standard.

"An American citizen was killed two years ago and the US government notes the inconsistencies in the reports to date, yet it has failed to insist on a thorough, fair and impartial investigation," said Marty Rosenbluth, AIUSA's Country Specialist for Israel, the Occupied Territories and the Palestinian Authority. "Secretary Rice should demonstrate a willingness to act on her Department's conclusions by promptly supporting a new inquiry with the assistance of US law enforcement agencies."

Amnesty International continues to call for an investigation into the wounding of Brian Avery, a US citizen who was shot in Jenin on April 5, 2003. Avery was seriously wounded when Israeli troops opened fire on him, despite the fact that he reportedly had his hands up and was wearing a vest that identified him as an international worker. Avery recently brought his case to the Israeli Supreme Court seeking to force an investigation after previous attempts to get the Israeli government to investigate failed.

Amnesty International has consistently condemned violations by all parties in the tragic cycle of violence that has killed and injured thousands of civilians.

The organization recognizes that the Israeli government not only has the right but the obligation to ensure the safety of its civilians, but reiterates that the use of force be conducted in accordance with international laws and norms. The failure to fully investigate deaths and prosecute those responsible is contributing to a culture of impunity and perpetuating the cycle of violence in the region.

Sexual Abuse of Guantanamo Prisoners Leads to... Promotion?

In the "Just to keep us all awake department"

Yep. During a year when we're seeing all sorts of people get promotions where demotions and maybe tribunals would be more appropriate, here's yet another example of how to get ahead in today's army. At least this one got a slap on the wrist before "movin' on up!"

From a Christian point of view, I find it amazing how we evangelicals are so indignant over Muslim assertions that our allegedly gawd-fearin' country is instead a nation of sex perverts. I could just cite the far-right leaning FOX network's grotesque uses of sex in their bottom-feeding fare. But instead, I would only ask that we consider how any Muslim might think of America after witnessing (or being victimized) by an incident such as this...


Interrogator disciplined over techniques now teaching soldiers


WASHINGTON - (KRT) - An ex-Army interrogator punished for sexually humiliating detainees at the Guantanamo prison is now teaching soldiers interrogation techniques, the New York Daily News has learned.

Former Staff Sgt. Jeannette Arocho-Burkart, 37, is an instructor at the Army Intelligence School in Fort Huachuca, Ariz., despite being reprimanded in 2003 for her sexually taunting tactics that included smearing fake menstrual blood on terror suspects, according to four sources who knew her there.

"She did get in trouble," confirmed one former colleague at Gitmo. "Huachuca could probably do better."

The source said that Arocho-Burkart was a "competent" interrogator, but "she fudged the line to an uncomfortable level."

"It wasn't torture, but touching the detainee inappropriately to humiliate him," the source said.

Besides wearing skimpy clothing to make Muslim men uncomfortable during questioning, Arocho-Burkart allegedly smeared red ink on a detainee's face, saying it was her menstrual blood - an act that got her punished.

Last week, Vice Adm. Albert Church, in a Pentagon report that cited only three cases of "substantiated" abuse at Gitmo, wrote that "two female interrogators ... touched and spoke to detainees in a sexually suggestive manner ... to incur stress based on the detainees' religious beliefs."

"Those reprimands were verbal, strong and immediate, and dealt with the situation," said another source who knew Arocho-Burkart at the prison camp.

Arocho-Burkart, raised in Mount Holly, N.J., and Puerto Rico, couldn't be reached for comment.

She left the Army and spent last year as a contractor with the Phoenix Consulting Group, where she was handpicked by the Defense Intelligence Agency to teach "strategic debriefing," or eliciting information from willing sources.

Last month, she left the agency and Phoenix. She now teaches a interrogation course at the Army school under contract with defense contractor Anteon Corp., officials said.

Officials at Huachuca and Phoenix's chairman, John Nolan, said they weren't aware until recently that Arocho-Burkart was reprimanded for detainee abuse.

Before she quit the agency job, Arocho-Burkart was quizzed about the allegations and denied them, a military official said.

Officials checked with Guantanamo before hiring Arocho-Burkart, but weren't told of the reprimand. Had they learned of it, "We wouldn't have hired her," the official said. Nolan added, "We're not interested in (hiring) somebody who colors outside the lines."


© 2005, New York Daily News.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

More Torture and Murder in Freedom's Name

Just in case you're keeping score of American atrocities against citizens in the Middle East...

I really do wonder how and why, as a Christian, I'm expected to support a regime involved in such activities. One doesn't need to be a pacifist (I'm not) to object heartily to our present government's insistence that we are on a moral "crusade" (yes, like those of old). A crusade, perhaps... but not a moral one. And not a Christian one, no matter how many evangelical persons of note sign on.

The article (from the NY Times):

Army Details Scale of Abuse of Prisoners in an Afghan Jail


Published: March 12, 2005

WASHINGTON, March 11 - Two Afghan prisoners who died in American custody in Afghanistan in December 2002 were chained to the ceiling, kicked and beaten by American soldiers in sustained assaults that caused their deaths, according to Army criminal investigative reports that have not yet been made public.

One soldier, Pfc. Willie V. Brand, was charged with manslaughter in a closed hearing last month in Texas in connection with one of the deaths, another Army document shows. Private Brand, who acknowledged striking a detainee named Dilawar 37 times, was accused of having maimed and killed him over a five-day period by "destroying his leg muscle tissue with repeated unlawful knee strikes."

The attacks on Mr. Dilawar were so severe that "even if he had survived, both legs would have had to be amputated," the Army report said, citing a medical examiner.

The reports, obtained by Human Rights Watch, provide the first official account of events that led to the deaths of the detainees, Mullah Habibullah and Mr. Dilawar, at the Bagram Control Point, about 40 miles north of Kabul. The deaths took place nearly a year before the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Among those implicated in the killings at Bagram were members of Company A of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, from Fort Bragg, N.C. The battalion went on to Iraq, where some members established the interrogation unit at Abu Ghraib and have been implicated in some abuses there.

The reports, from the Army Criminal Investigation Command, also make clear that the abuse at Bagram went far beyond the two killings. Among those recommended for prosecution is an Army military interrogator from the 519th Battalion who is said to have "placed his penis along the face" of one Afghan detainee and later to have "simulated anally sodomizing him (over his clothes)."

The Army reports cited "credible information" that four military interrogators assaulted Mr. Dilawar and another Afghan prisoner with "kicks to the groin and leg, shoving or slamming him into walls/table, forcing the detainee to maintain painful, contorted body positions during interview and forcing water into his mouth until he could not breathe."

American military officials in Afghanistan initially said the deaths of Mr. Habibullah, in an isolation cell on Dec. 4, 2002, and Mr. Dilawar, in another such cell six days later, were from natural causes. Lt. Gen. Daniel K. McNeill, the American commander of allied forces in Afghanistan at the time, denied then that prisoners had been chained to the ceiling or that conditions at Bagram endangered the lives of prisoners.

But after an investigation by The New York Times, the Army acknowledged that the deaths were homicides. Last fall, Army investigators implicated 28 soldiers and reservists and recommended that they face criminal charges, including negligent homicide.

But so far only Private Brand, a military policeman from the 377th Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit based in Cincinnati, and Sgt. James P. Boland, from the same unit, have been charged.

The charges against Sergeant Boland for assault and other crimes were announced last summer, and those against Private Brand are spelled out in Army charge sheets from hearings on Jan. 4 and Feb. 3 in Fort Bliss, Tex.

The names of other officers and soldiers liable to criminal charges had not previously been made public.

But among those mentioned in the new reports is Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, the chief military intelligence officer at Bagram. The reports conclude that Captain Wood lied to investigators by saying that shackling prisoners in standing positions was intended to protect interrogators from harm. In fact, the report says, the technique was used to inflict pain and sleep deprivation.

An Army report dated June 1, 2004, about Mr. Habibullah's death identifies Capt. Christopher Beiring of the 377th Military Police Company as having been "culpably inefficient in the performance of his duties, which allowed a number of his soldiers to mistreat detainees, ultimately leading to Habibullah's death, thus constituting negligent homicide."

Captain Wood, who commanded Company A in Afghanistan, later helped to establish the interrogation and debriefing center at Abu Ghraib. Two Defense Department reports have said that a list of interrogation procedures she drew up there, which went beyond those approved by Army commanders, may have contributed to abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Past efforts to contact Captain Wood, Captain Beiring and Sergeant Boland, who were mentioned in passing in earlier reports, and to learn the identity of their lawyers, have been unsuccessful. All have been named in previous Pentagon reports and news accounts about the incidents in Afghanistan; none have commented publicly. The name of Private Brand's lawyer did not appear on the Army charge sheet, and military officials said neither the soldier nor the lawyer would likely comment.

John Sifton, a researcher on Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch, said the documents substantiated the group's own investigations showing that beatings and stress positions were widely used, and that "far from a few isolated cases, abuse at sites in Afghanistan was common in 2002, the rule more than the exception."

"Human Rights Watch has previously documented, through interviews with former detainees, that scores of other detainees were beaten at Bagram and Kandahar bases from early 2002 on," Mr. Sifton said in an e-mail message.

In his own report, made public this week, Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III cited the deaths of Mr. Habibullah and Mr. Dilawar as examples of abuse that had occurred during interrogations. Admiral Church said his review of the Army investigation had found that the abuse "was unrelated to approved interrogation techniques."

But Admiral Church also said there were indications in both cases "that medical personnel may have attempted to misrepresent the circumstances of the death, possibly in an effort to disguise detainee abuse," and noted that the Army's surgeon general was reviewing "the specific medical handling" of those cases and one other.

The most specific previous description of the cause of deaths of the two men had come from Pentagon officials, who said last fall that both had suffered "blunt force trauma to the legs," and that investigators had determined that they had been beaten by "multiple soldiers" who, for the most part, had used their knees. Pentagon officials said at the time that it was likely that the beatings had been confined to the legs of the detainees so the injuries would be less visible.

Both men had been chained to the ceiling, one at the waist and one by the wrists, although their feet remained on the ground. Both men had been captured by Afghan forces and turned over to the American military for interrogation.

Mr. Habibullah, a brother of a former Taliban commander, died of a pulmonary embolism apparently caused by blood clots formed in his legs from the beatings, according to the report of June 1, 2004. Mr. Dilawar, who suffered from a heart condition, is described in an Army report dated July 6, 2004, as having died from "blunt force trauma to the lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease."

Monday, March 14, 2005

PoMo and Politics

A close relative who is not a Christian but is very politically blue, is baffled by my interest in post-modernism. He sees our current political climate as one where a sort of extreme post-modern fascist nexus controls our vertical and horizontal. This is, he says, exemplified by (as just one example) the blithe approach to reasons our government gave for invading Iraq. WMDs were, it was said over and over again, that reason. When they turned out not to be there, the administration simply ignored the fact, or started appealing to 9/11, which has no verifiable connection to Iraq or Saddam Hussein.

These examples offer a picture of how an extreme post modernism becomes politically dangerous; the story is all that matters, not the truth. There is, it seems, no truth but the one constructed and deconstructed/reconstructed at will, using our collective anxiety and apathy toward those we do not know as its basis.

Yet in reality, the post-moderns are invariably blue, despite my relative's complaints otherwise. Richard Rorty, for instance, roots his entire framework in the idea of identifying with the "strange" or Other via the common language of our human suffering. This is a cardinally liberal approach, not a conservative one.

It is also, I would argue, a quintessentially Christian approach. And I would hope that the many streams of post-modernism in its moderate forms that currently are flowing through the church would bring into being a politically informed love. That is, I would hope that "emergent" individuals and communities / churches would discover the most profound elements of post-modern thought, namely, that common thread between the suffering Christ and the suffering Other.

A year ago, I was asked to present a paper along these lines as a respondent to the thoughtful post-modern / emergent voice of Rick Richardson. (See his paper I was responding to here.) Truth is, I basically pulled a Trott and talked about what I wanted to talk about. Here is that paper in its entirety below, but I would end this introduction to it by saying that it may also give a reader more understanding why I lean so far blue rather than red.


Suffering and the Other
A Response to Rick Richardson’s “The Perceptions We Face”
Evangelism Round Table
April 22nd to 24th 2004

By Jon Trott

Forgive me, as my response to Rick’s excellent paper barely scratches the surface of much he offers there. What follows focuses mainly on just a few aspects of Rick’s analysis, adding in my own inner-city communalist slant.

Paul Robeson – African-American musician, scholar, and athlete – has long been a personal hero of mine. His renditions of black spirituals and folk songs haunt me. Like the mythical John Henry he sang about, he swung a mighty steel hammer against the mountainous rock of American racism. And, after decades of persecution by America’s government, like his John Henry, it was he and not the granite that broke. That stony metanarrative – or “Grand Story” – had to do with survival of the fittest and the upward journey of man. The white man, of course. Someone as beautiful, powerful, and gifted as Robeson had no choice but to hammer himself against that metanarrative and be destroyed by it. Who says that a story cannot kill?

Anyone willing to take a hammer to such stories is welcome in my book, and that includes the post-moderns. But of course one mustn’t swing so far the other direction as Richard Rorty, in his Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity seems to do. If Rorty’s correct, when I say “I know Jesus,” God is part of the irony-laced language game I’m involved in playing. We’re like the character in a recent movie who, when caught repeatedly smelling his own armpit, replies “It comforts me.” Is that all any honestly intellectual one of us can say about belief in Jesus? Why not admit what we privately know – that we’re making it up – and flush both God and all concepts of so-called “morality” (including social justice) down the metaphysical toilet? That is certainly an intellectual possibility. Yet I believe truly that Jesus is Truth, capital “T” and all. His Words are revealed in a book of books He’s given us. In what is a mystery, I met Him. He knows me and through His Spirit is in union with me. I am loved. That is my story, our story.

But what I also believe is that without the double-visioning that Rick Richardson (via Miroslav Volf) offers us, we continue to fail to see the Other. To cite Rorty on something along those same lines, human solidarity is “to be achieved not by inquiry but by imagination, the imaginative ability to see strange people as fellow sufferers.” That sounds noble, but is it possible? And for the Christian, there’s a whole second layer in this process. That is, Jesus identifies himself with that other. “As you did to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” [Matt 25:40 NRSV].

How do I imagine Jesus as the suffering other, seeing Him in that one and that one as Him? He is the Thing that is not that confounds the things that are. He is the disinherited one, not a handsome African-American intellectual like Robeson – who would be a star today – but the urine-soaked, coke-addicted homeless black woman of some gawd-awful age rattling on to herself about something not even she cares about. Jesus is, in short, to be avoided. That natural human tendency to avoid the unpleasant, the uncomfortable, and the so-called “abnormal” plays, I think, against any post modern project aimed at loving, or even tolerating, others. Without agape, which comes from God as a gift, after all, we cannot do this double-visioning thing.

In this talk of post-modernism I find myself puzzled, as we – myself included – are not the disinherited ones. We are well off. We have. We are somebody, not nobody, not like Him. So we can talk about modernism, post-modernism, existentialism (my favorite, actually), or even good old secular humanism. But how do we tell people about what we really know, what we say we know, anyway. How do we tell them about Jesus? And how do we tell them, who have nothing, when we have so much?

We can love our neighbor who lives in Africa while despising the homeless shelter and its residents next door. Our African neighbor suffers from AIDS, and I wonder how we’d do if she and her AIDS-infected children lived next door to us instead of half a world away, their skin-and-bones dying and smelling and crying going on not on TV but right outside our doors? I wonder if too many moderns and post-moderns are just sentimentalists, that is, feeling good about being both clever (that is, ironic) and socially aware simultaneously? For myself, who suffers often from the temptation to believe in nothing (the very ironic view that Rorty urges me to adopt), I can’t imagine trying to harmonize “love” and relativism. I believe despite being a doubting Thomas because I see Jesus in those around me.

Another wonderment: are we evangelicals really interested in the radical (and in my opinion, often accurate) attack post-modern thinking makes on our status quo? Rick’s paper touches quite effectively on the unholy alliance between this nation’s power structures and the evangelical Christian community. I recently viewed a video – allegedly about post-modern “emerging” churches – put together by one of Protestantism’s largest denominations. That same denomination has made giant strides backward in its approach to gender equality and inclusion; what are we to conclude? It appeared to me more an attempt to co-opt that movement much as software giant Microsoft has used the so-called “embrace and extend” technology model to co-opt open source programming so that same programming runs only on Microsoft Windows based computers. Using language to further private agendas rather than disinterested agape love is, alas, the rule rather than the exception amongst us all.

But back to imagining. What does Jesus look like? That’s the question. Rick is right, I believe, to suggest that we’re to leave our world, enter the other’s world, and take them into our inner world. But what, not just conceptually but in the three-dimensional daily warp and woof of things, will happen then?

I enter the world of another, which sounds romantic. But what if that world reveals my own luck, my own good fortune in the face of their woundedness and terror and pain and rage and broken sorrow? Now what? And what if it reveals my own brokenness? A bunch of us in Chicago have been trying to do this, with varying success, for the past thirty two years. And as fellow communard, Catholic servant of the poor Jean Vanier, once laughingly asked us, “Community… isn’t it terrible!?” Community, this thing that post modern believers talk a lot about, is I assure you going to be where one meets pain in others and unburies the hidden pain and woundedness of one’s self. I hope the emerging church is serious about living such lives, not using any prefab blueprint but certainly depending upon their Lord to work in them and through them to transform the surrounding world.

The Other – Jesus – is not only disreputable and disquieting. He’s a clown. He won’t take me seriously. Me and all my questions, me and all my wants. He has his own questions. Like he asked poor, wonderful, soaked Peter on that long-ago lake shore: “Do you love me?” Three times he asked it. Poor, poor Peter. Jesus, the confuser, the de-centering center indeed, the perplexer of people preoccupied with themselves! This holy clown is the true eternal self who always dances but never changes from being what He has always been – Love.

And so, dragged by this relentless God off center, out of myself, I enter into another’s world because, like Peter, Jesus asks me to feed his sheep. And Jesus warns Peter then that he will suffer, even die, because he loves Jesus enough to obey and feed His sheep. Yes, it is a terrible thing to enter another’s world—the great first reason evangelical white folk don’t like this post-modern talk—but I’m now vulnerable to the edges and pain another carries. Will I allow this? Will I then respond to this? If I do, I haltingly begin to look a little like Jesus, and maybe even draw others to him. And I begin to suffer.

Friday, March 11, 2005

God's Tears

This poem was written in honor of my wife, who inspired it. Not long after the Iraq bombings began, as we watched the 6 o'clock news one night, a report unusually graphic showed a dead Iraqi child and its screaming mother... the camera panned over the scene slowly. And I watched in horror, yes, but a detached horror. I was disgusted with the government I voted against, but still somehow detached. Then, my wife's sudden exclamation -- "Why did we DO that! How could she have been there?!?" And the tears on her face suddenly ripping through the objective veneer over my heart...


God's Tears

Specificity, please.

A mutilated, still limb lies beneath a broken wall,
the smell of rotting flesh, and flies buzzing.
The wail of pure grief, and the still-young mother,
flinging the dust of despair over her head.

In her arms, the dead child's ruined face, smeared
With the blood of our power and their resistance
Her heart that burns with desperate fire.

We observe, coolly, more like God
in our ability to see through media eyes
than God Himself to see through ours.

Our emotions as changeable as weather
and unable to move our nervous hands,
which twitch the remote to another frequency.

Specificity, please.

The powerful control the meaning of love, dear.
The camera lens focused on what they're selling.
There's little hidden, it's all up front, just look.
The mothers of the children stir uneasily at the beast
As it hungrily eyes their little consumers

And I watch the television, numb to the bombs, numb
Until you scream, suddenly, the other mother –

"What are we doing? Oh, God!

What have we done?"

And your face, covered with tears, is the Lord's.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Jesus, Money, and the Republicans

Christians who are fans of the republican make-over of America's social fabric may want to remind themselves of Paul's admonition: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains."

Money is about power (see Jacques Ellul's "Money and Power") and inevitably leads to oppression. As a Christian, I don't need Marx to tell me that uncontrolled capitalism is inherently oppressive and leads to power accruing in fewer and fewer hands.

Consider the below New York Times bit on congressional assaults made against families most at risk financially. It really is stunning to see evangelical Christians willing to back this regime when our Savior focused his ministry upon "the least of these."

A "secular humanist" doesn't have to worry about judgements of God, at least he thinks not. But I suspect many Christians ought to be worrying more about God's coming wrath against the rich and thus powerful entities arrayed against the poor and oppressed. As James wrote,

5:1 Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.
2 Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten.
3 Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days.
4 Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.
7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.
8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

Now *that* is something that will preach, sisters and brothers! Question is, how can we support the oppressors of those Jesus loves while claiming to love them? That bit of cognitive dissonance I leave for the reader to ponder as they peruse the below.


The New York Times
March 8, 2005
The Debt-Peonage Society

Today the Senate is expected to vote to limit debate on a bill that toughens the existing bankruptcy law, probably ensuring the bill's passage. A solid bloc of Republican senators, assisted by some Democrats, has already voted down a series of amendments that would either have closed loopholes for the rich or provided protection for some poor and middle-class families.

The bankruptcy bill was written by and for credit card companies, and the industry's political muscle is the reason it seems unstoppable. But the bill also fits into the broader context of what Jacob Hacker, a political scientist at Yale, calls "risk privatization": a steady erosion of the protection the government provides against personal misfortune, even as ordinary families face ever-growing economic insecurity.

The bill would make it much harder for families in distress to write off their debts and make a fresh start. Instead, many debtors would find themselves on an endless treadmill of payments.

The credit card companies say this is needed because people have been abusing the bankruptcy law, borrowing irresponsibly and walking away from debts. The facts say otherwise.

A vast majority of personal bankruptcies in the United States are the result of severe misfortune. One recent study found that more than half of bankruptcies are the result of medical emergencies. The rest are overwhelmingly the result either of job loss or of divorce.

To the extent that there is significant abuse of the system, it's concentrated among the wealthy - including corporate executives found guilty of misleading investors - who can exploit loopholes in the law to protect their wealth, no matter how ill-gotten.

One increasingly popular loophole is the creation of an "asset protection trust," which is worth doing only for the wealthy. Senator Charles Schumer introduced an amendment that would have limited the exemption on such trusts, but apparently it's O.K. to game the system if you're rich: 54 Republicans and 2 Democrats voted against the Schumer amendment.

Other amendments were aimed at protecting families and individuals who have clearly been forced into bankruptcy by events, or who would face extreme hardship in repaying debts. Ted Kennedy introduced an exemption for cases of medical bankruptcy. Russ Feingold introduced an amendment protecting the homes of the elderly. Dick Durbin asked for protection for armed services members and veterans. All were rejected.

None of this should come as a surprise: it's all part of the pattern.

As Mr. Hacker and others have documented, over the past three decades the lives of ordinary Americans have become steadily less secure, and their chances of plunging from the middle class into acute poverty ever larger. Job stability has declined; spells of unemployment, when they happen, last longer; fewer workers receive health insurance from their employers; fewer workers have guaranteed pensions.

Some of these changes are the result of a changing economy. But the underlying economic trends have been reinforced by an ideologically driven effort to strip away the protections the government used to provide. For example, long-term unemployment has become much more common, but unemployment benefits expire sooner. Health insurance coverage is declining, but new initiatives like health savings accounts (introduced in the 2003 Medicare bill), rather than discouraging that trend, further undermine the incentives of employers to provide coverage.

Above all, of course, at a time when ever-fewer workers can count on pensions from their employers, the current administration wants to phase out Social Security.

The bankruptcy bill fits right into this picture. When everything else goes wrong, Americans can still get a measure of relief by filing for bankruptcy - and rising insecurity means that they are forced to do this more often than in the past. But Congress is now poised to make bankruptcy law harsher, too.

Warren Buffett recently made headlines by saying America is more likely to turn into a "sharecroppers' society" than an "ownership society." But I think the right term is a "debt peonage" society - after the system, prevalent in the post-Civil War South, in which debtors were forced to work for their creditors. The bankruptcy bill won't get us back to those bad old days all by itself, but it's a significant step in that direction.

And any senator who votes for the bill should be ashamed.


Monday, March 07, 2005

Using Jesus to Abuse Muslims?

Here's a nice thing; US guards at Guantanamo Bay's prison colony have apparently been abusing Muslim prisoners there by, among other things, shaving crosses into inmates' hair and (in one incident) justifying a beating by exclaiming, "I'm a Christian."

I would hope evanglicals who take Jesus seriously would protest these actions (described in the below Miami Herald article) by writing their congresspersons and by speaking from the pulpits and the streets against continuing abuse at Guantanamo Bay against prisoners.

Further, I strongly urge evangelicals to militate for visitation rights to these prisoners, for themselves and for other relief and advocacy agencies.

Posted on Sun, Mar. 06, 2005
The Miami Herald
Captives allege religious abuse

Prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have complained of anti-Islamic abuses by guards and interrogators, including defilement of the Koran.

Web Bug from crosenberg@herald.comWeb Bug from

Captives at the Guantánamo Bay prison are alleging that guards kicked and stomped on Korans and cursed Allah, and that interrogators punished them by taking away their pants, knowing that would prevent them from praying.

Guards also mocked captives at prayer and censored Islamic books, the captives allege. And in one incident, they say, a prison barber cut a cross-shaped patch of hair on an inmate's head.

Most of the complaints come from the recently declassified notes of defense lawyers' interviews with prisoners, which Guantánamo officials initially stamped ''secret.'' Under a federal court procedure for due-process appeals by about 100 inmates, portions are now being declassified.

The allegations of religious abuses contradict Pentagon portrayals of the Guantánamo prison for Taliban and al Qaeda suspects as respectful of Islam. Commanders at the base in Cuba have showcased the presence of Muslim chaplains and the issuance of Korans, prayer rugs, caps and beads and religiously correct meals.

Army Col. David McWilliams, the spokesman for the Miami-based Southern Command, which supervises the prison, said he could not confirm or deny the specific complaints. They could not be independently investigated because the U.S. military bans reporters from interviewing detainees.

But McWilliams denied any policy of religious abuse.

''There's certainly no planned approach from guards to interrogators that pits Christianity against Islam,'' he told The Herald. ``The policy has been to show respect for the Islamic religion -- and that runs the gamut from providing the items they need for prayer to making sure their diets are appropriate.''

The accounts of religious indignities and abuses come from at least two dozen captives and a range of attorneys -- from U.S. military lawyers assigned to defend prisoners to activist law professors and private corporate lawyers who have sued since the Supreme Court ruled in June that the captives can contest their detention in U.S. courts.


'On or about Christmas 2002, the head of shift banged on detainees' cells, yelling Merry Christmas and cursing Allah,'' said New York attorney Joshua Colangelo-Bryan's notes from his interview with Jumah al Dossari, 31, of Bahrain. ``Subsequently, a lieutenant arrived and . . . he hit Mr. al Dossari and insulted the Koran.''

And after Dossari asked a military policeman identified only as Smith why Smith had beaten him unconscious in one episode, according to the lawyer's notes, 'Smith replied, `because I'm Christian.' ''

New York lawyer Adrian Stewart said one of his 14 Yemeni clients, a man in his 20s, had his eyebrows and head shaved three times as punishment -- and one time the Army barber left what his client described as a cross-shaped patch of hair on his head.

Military spokesmen would not say whether they believed that the incident was the same one for which a prison barber was reprimanded for giving a detainee a haircut described as a Mohawk in February 2003.

The latest allegations of abuses at the prison in southeastern Cuba come as a three-star Air Force general is investigating FBI accounts of harsh interrogation tactics -- and subsequent reports that women soldiers used sexual taunts during interrogations. Devout Muslim men believe they must not touch women other than their wives.

New York attorney Marc Falkoff said his 13 Yemeni clients, men in their 20s and 30s, were also victims of religious humiliation.

Falkoff said prisoner Majid Ahmad, 24, told him that an interrogator stepped on his Koran at one point -- a sacrilege in Islam -- and that prisoners are ``mocked during prayers.''

Falkoff and other lawyers said prisoners also claimed U.S. troops sometimes blared music during prayers or tried to drown out a recording of the call to prayers. But that's not the worst.

''The things they always complain about is their trousers are routinely taken away from them for a variety of disciplinary actions, including not talking during interrogations,'' Falkoff said. ``Now, the reason this is a punishment . . . is that these guys can't pray without being covered head to foot . . . and they see this as a religious insult.''

The military says soldiers take pants from prisoners who might try to hang themselves; captives call it calculated punishment because Islam requires that they be covered as they pray five times a day.


Boston attorney Rob Kirsch said detainee Mustafa Ait Idir, 34, an Algerian-born Bosnian detained on suspicion of links to a plot to blow up a U.S. embassy, told of being transferred to a no-trousers cell section known as Romeo block.

When he refused to give up his pants, he was tackled, punched and pepper-sprayed, and had a testicle squeezed and a finger broken by soldiers of a quick-reaction force, Kirsch's notes said.

''Mr. Ait Idir desperately tried to reason . . . and again explained that he could not give up his pants for religious reasons since, without pants, he could not pray,'' the notes said. ``He asked if it would be possible for him to wear his pants only during prayer. The IRF [Immediate Reaction Force] began to spray tear gas again.''

German-born Turkish citizen Murat Kurnaz, 23, said he head-butted a woman soldier who rubbed her breasts against his back and stuck her hand down his shirt during an interrogation, said his lawyer, Seton Hall University law professor Baher Azmy.


Kurnaz claimed that in reprisal, the soldiers beat him and left him hogtied for about 20 hours, put him in isolation and denied him food for six days, Azmy's notes said. He drank water from his cell sink.

Three Kuwaiti captives -- Fawzi al Odah, 27, Fouad al Rabiah, 45, and Khalid al Mutairi, 29 -- separately complained to their lawyer that military police threw their Korans into the toilet, according to the notes of Kristine Huskey, a Washington attorney.

The alleged religious indignities have disturbed U.S. military officers assigned to defend the detainees.

''From vaunted religious freedom to what actually exists for Mr. Hamdan are worlds apart,'' said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, lawyer for Yemeni Salim Hamdan, 35, who worked as a driver on Osama bin Laden's Afghanistan farm.

To help his client pass time, Swift said, he brought Hamdan $550 worth of mainstream Muslim books that had been allowed in the prison during its first year of operation. He said censors prohibited them and explained that only Army-issued Korans were allowed.

''He did get one religious book -- it was approved in two days -- the Bible,'' Swift said.

Defense lawyers were unwilling to speculate on which alleged religious abuses involved approved U.S. interrogation techniques and which were committed by soldiers acting on their own.

But Pentagon interrogation rules have at times permitted the use of religion as a pressure point at Guantánamo, which, unlike the Abu Ghraib prison during the early, chaotic days in Iraq, was a strictly controlled site 8,000 miles from the battle zone.

Guantánamo commanders have boasted in successive media presentations that the Army captain who serves as intelligence chief systematically strips prisoners of religious articles such as prayer beads, a prayer rug or prayer oils if they are deemed uncooperative.

''The issue of removing published religious items or materials would be relevant if these were United States citizens with a First Amendment right. Such is not the case with the detainees,'' said an Oct. 11, 2002, legal brief written by the Guantánamo interrogation unit's lawyer, Army Lt. Col. Diane E. Beaver.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Pledge of Allegiance

A reader asks what I think of the Pledge of Allegiance. Should a Christian "pledge allegiance to the flag"? Well, it all depends I suppose on just what level such allegiance is seen to exist, and even what "allegiance" in and of itself signfies.

On another level entirely, however, is this fact. The Pledge was not written by a member of the Christian Right; anything but. Rather, it was a "Christian socialist" by the name of Francis Bellamy, who believed in both individual sin and corporate responsibility, who penned those words. See my Cornerstone magazine article, The Pledge of Allegiance and Its Author. (The "under God" part came in during Eisenhower's era in 1954, inspired by the Knights of Columbus but pushed through by Ike himself.)

Gene Scott Dies: Televangelism's Strangest Citizen

The wierdest and (to me) most entertaining televangelist of 'em all, Dr. Gene Scott, has died of a stroke at 75 years of age. He was into pyramidology, end times craziness, wearing multiple pairs of glasses (which he'd continually remove and replace, in various configurations, while talking), screaming at the FCC (his arch-nemesis), chomping oversized cigars and occasionally cursing on-air, and so on...

I have no idea what the guy actually believed or didn't believe, how much of what he said was "a gig" and how much was actually sincere. Whatever, Scott's version of televangelism was (as one other commentator said of him) like watching a train wreck; you just couldn't look away.

For instance, I once watched "Dr. Gene" in action raising funds. And that was always a treat. He began low-key enough -- for him -- by demanding people "Get on the phone!" But when it soon became apparent that not enough people were actually obeying this divinely-inspired directive, Scott grew increasingly impatient. Finally, he exploded. "I'm not getting the money you're supposed to be sending!" he thundered. "And until I do, this is all you're going to see!" And with that, the camera swung away from Scott's angry face to a blank studio wall... and stayed there.

My all-time favorite moment regarding Scott was sitting in apologist Robert and Gretchen Passantinos' living room and watching tape of his last broadcast before being (temporarily) shut down by the FCC. He had lined up around thirty to sixty wind-up monkeys of various sizes, shapes, and descriptions. Most of them were holding instruments, a few were instead gymnasts twirling on ladders or trees. He called them the "Bureaucratic Monkey Band," pointedly aimed at the FCC. And as the camera panned the band in action, getting close-ups of various monkeys doing their thing, Scott offered a ranting, rambling commentary that was alternately very funny and very twisted (the man seemed to me to have a case of megalomania).

And then, with little warning, Scott suddenly said, "Goodbye!" and the screen went to snow. He'd literally unplugged his cameras live.

Gene Scott's wierd mix of Americana, Christianity, semi-occult themes, and showmanship is unlikely to ever be seen again. And I suppose it shouldn't be, really. But I'll miss it, just a little bit.

A wag might say that someone with more authority unplugged the cameras this time.