One need not have special revelation or any particular spiritual belief to know that what happened in Arizona was wrong in the worst way. We instinctively and rightly recoil from the thought of it, no matter where and how our morality is founded. Yet whether we consciously intend to or not, we not only react with revulsion, but also a question… what does this mean? Just as we know instinctively that it is wrong, we also know that it carries meaning. We want and need to interpret this event and what it means in our time, as well as what our response should be.
To the New York Times’ Paul Krugman and other similarly minded thinkers, the meaning is to be found in calling out right-wing political commentators for creating a climate of “hate” towards Democrats that is so dreadful that folks like Krugman “expect[ed] something like this atrocity to happen.” Our response to these murders, we are told, should be to call “all decent people” to “shun” the “likes of [Glenn] Beck and [Bill] O’Reilly.”
FoxNews and Drudge Report, on the other hand, seem to interpret this event as an anomaly we can safely attribute to the strange delusions of one mentally disturbed individual (while also throwing in that he was a “left-wing pothead” in order to curb the attacks coming from outlets such as the NYT). How is one supposed to react to the “Scary Freak” shown in the screenshot below taken from the Drudge Report homepage? Obviously, the intent is to disassociate this man not only from conservatives, but seemingly from all of us! The response they are advocating seems to be a very practical one, that we should improve our governmental mental health system so that people like this are identified, hospitalized, and (perhaps) medicatedbefore they act out in this way.
While the conservative reaction described is more to the point (and certainly better factually attested and reasoned), I believe that the liberal attempt to interpret the event as part of a larger reality is right on, even if their conclusions are not. The NYT’s Krugman was right when he said:
It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.
Yet he was wrong in his analysis of what it is in the national climate that bred events and minds like this. The problem goes much deeper than right-wing rhetoric aimed at the left (as an aside, it should be noted that the left is often as bad as or worse than the right in their demonizing of the opposition, as discussed on yesterday’s Line of Fire episode). In fact, it goes much deeper than the New York Times, or FoxNews, or the Drudge Report are willing (or trained) to go. Krugman is right that there is “sickness” permeating our society, but the sickness is not only in “them” (to Krugman, the right), and it is not only in “him” (to Drudge, the shooter). No, the sickness is in us, all of us!
The nation’s sickness is an evil more real and devastating than any of us realize, and when events such as what happened in Arizona occur, we must discern that rather than some anomaly perpetuated by one angry or disturbed soul so utterly different from the rest of us (some “Scary Freak”), this evil is a public manifestation of a larger reality. We are in a sin-sick society that has cultivated a loveless, godless, and purposeless culture that provides its youth with precious little reason to live beyond the pursuit of immediate pleasure and the numbing of one’s pain. Is it any wonder that it is in the midst of this sort of environment we find young men that for whatever reason (be it mental instability, social rejection, or beliefs/ideologies) are neither enticed by the allure of pleasure, comfort, or societal status, nor intimidated by the punishments that can be leveled upon them by society’s social and governmental structures, turning their inward rage and hostility outward? While we ought to be shocked by this act, we ought not be shocked that a deluded young man living a meaningless, purposeless life in a meaningless, purposeless society, committed an act of meaningless, purposeless violence.
In addition to the immediate, visceral, and pragmatic response we should have to a tragedy such as this, there is a deeper reality we need to enter into in order to extract the meaning of something of this horror. What is the meaning of this tragedy? And what should our response be? Whatever the specifics of this particular case may end up being, and to whatever extent Jared Loughner was affected or unaffected by this age in the midst of his apparent delusions, I would submit that to look into the face of the “scary freak” pictured on Drudge above, or at the pictures of Virginia Tech shooter Seng Hui-Cho or Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold below, and look away without sensing a need to desperately change the culture we’ve nurtured is to see but not understand, to hear but not perceive. These were not individuals motivated by greed, or ideology, or so many other things that make (at some level) sense to us. There’s something desperate, something pathetic in their lives and actions.
There’s a deeper response called for, and it starts with a call for all of us to repent before the living God for cultivating the culture we abide in, asking the author of life to change us from those that sit idly by as generation after generation comes through the societal “system” we’ve set up without having any sense of meaning and purpose beyond the things of this world. There is a stream of true life available to all, and we must be ones that testify to its reality in our generation. We must be the “salt-seasoning” of our society, with a “saltiness” born from deep and real encounters with the Messiah. “The heavens are the heavens of the Lord, but the earth He has given to the sons of men.” This is our divine responsibility… let’s not miss this.
A campaign to raise awareness of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah from Chosen People Ministries, which included billboards and a full page ad in the New York Times promoting a free book explaining the chapter, also featured a public open-mic debate with Dr. Brown at a Marriott in downtown Manhattan on July 15th. The debate began with a presentation from Brown on Isaiah 53, and followed with an opportunity for anyone in attendance to challenge his presentation. Below is a report from Dr. Brown, including live excerpts from the presentation and comments/challenges from some of those that came to the mic:
Reaction from Jewish counter-missionaries (those that actively oppose the message of the gospel being spread to the Jewish people) to the campaign and debate included the following from 5 Towns Jewish Times:
Last Thursday night, Chosen People Ministries held a poorly attended public debate at Manhattan’s Marriott East Side, featuring top missionary lecturer Dr. Michael Brown, author of a five-part book series which purports to answer Jewish objections to JC. Among the few Jews who attended were several countermissionary experts, including Rabbi Moshe Shulman, executive director of Judaism’s Answer (www.judaismsanswer.com). Shulman engaged Brown in collegial exchange and scored several points in refuting Brown’s scholarly allegations that Isaiah 53 definitively supports the messiahship of JC.
Commenting afterwards, Rabbi Shulman noted, “Debates with Jews about the messiah are not new. Over 500 years ago, the Spanish Jewish communities suffered such indignity as part of the Inquisition. Today it’s more subtle, and Jewish apathy is furthering missionary inroads into Russian, Israeli, Bukharian, Persian, and American Jewish communities. The Orthodox can no longer claim to be immune. And what’s happening here is equally unfolding in Israel with little resistance or outrage.”
The chapter, according to the translation in The Times, speaks of a singular “suffering servant,” which Glaser maintains is a reference to Jesus.
Isaiah 53 is a standard polemic text that missionaries use, said Rabbi Tovia Singer of Outreach Judaism.
“Isaiah 53 is the fourth Servant Song which began in Isaiah 41,” Rabbi Singer explained. “In the first three Servant Songs it identifies the servant who suffers at the hands of the nations as Israel. Isaiah introduces the servant of G-d, both in the singular and plural, who endured tremendous pains, but who is ultimately vindicated in the Messianic days… The chapter [is] molested, ripped out of context and mistranslated and presented to Jewish people who know nothing about the faith that they are being asked to abandon.”
In response to allegations such as these from counter-missionaries that the campaign should elicit “resistance and outrage” from Jewish people, and that the 53rd chapter of Isaiah is “molested, ripped out of context and mistranslated” by Messianic missionaries, Brown said the following:
When you hear almost hysterical charges like these from Rabbi Singer, you can only ask yourself why the counter-missionaries are protesting so loudly. Could it be that Isaiah 53 speaks for itself so clearly?
Really now, why would a Jewish rabbi get so upset when we tell our Jewish people to take their Bibles (in Hebrew or in a good Jewish translation) and read Isaiah 53 for themselves? Are we being criticized by professional counter-missionaries for encouraging fellow Jews to read their Bibles, pray, and think for themselves?
In reality, the greatest evangelistic tool we have is not our gospel literature or our arguments or our debating abilities. It is just the text of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Scriptures. Countless thousands of Jews have embraced Yeshua as the Messiah based on their study of Isaiah 53, and we are confident that many thousands more will come to faith as well.
The New York Times published a fair article about murdered pro-life activist James Pouillon and the pro-life protest movement in general. One of the more interesting sections of the article states :
This is a particularly American brand of faith: confrontational and action oriented. The most cited verses come not from the Gospels detailing the life of Jesus Christ but from the Old Testament prophets. Mr. Gallagher said he was inspired by Jeremiah 7, where the Lord says Israel’s “people, animals, trees, and crops will be consumed by the unquenchable fire of my anger.”
Nancy Keenan, president of Naral Pro-Choice America, said she worried that the emphasis on judgment provides tacit approval for violence, like the recent killing of Dr. George R. Tiller, an abortion provider in Kansas.
But Mr. Gallagher, 60, a white-bearded father of six, disagreed. He said Christianity must be emphasized because churches are the only institutions with the power to put abortion clinics out of business. Like Mr. Pouillon, who often protested outside congregations on Sunday mornings, Mr. Gallagher said far too many Christians nodded, but did not act.
“It really can end,” he said of abortion, “if all the Christians just went out there for seven days in a row to tell the truth peacefully.”
It seems quite amusing that the reporter believes the faith of Abortion protesters is “a particularly American brand,” as if only American Christians would stand up as salt and light in their land when bloodshed is being sanctioned politically and culturally (though the tide is shifting culturally). Overall, however, it is a pleasant surprise to see them actually treating pro-life protesters with some level of dignity and respect. DriveThru, CitizenLink’s blog, commented:
What we don’t often see is a major newspaper – particularly the New York Times – giving front page, eye-catching real estate to a civilized article about the varied paths many people take to become life advocates.
In response, New York Times columnist Frank Rich provided an editorial entitled “The Bigots’ Last Hoorah” declaring “the demise of America’s anti-gay movement.” Here’s a snippet:
Far from terrifying anyone, “Gathering Storm” has become, unsurprisingly, an Internet camp classic. On YouTube the original video must compete with countless homemade parodies it has inspired since first turning up some 10 days ago. None may top Stephen Colbert’s on Thursday night, in which lightning from “the homo storm” strikes an Arkansas teacher, turning him gay. A “New Jersey pastor” whose church has been “turned into an Abercrombie & Fitch” declares that he likes gay people, “but only as hilarious best friends in TV and movies.”
Yet easy to mock as “Gathering Storm” may be, it nonetheless bookmarks a historic turning point in the demise of America’s anti-gay movement.
What gives the ad its symbolic significance is not just that it’s idiotic but that its release was the only loud protest anywhere in America to the news that same-sex marriage had been legalized in Iowa and Vermont. If it advances any message, it’s mainly that homophobic activism is ever more depopulated and isolated as well as brain-dead.
While it is hard to take Mr. Rich seriously when he describes a video such as Gathering Storm as “idiotic” (is childish name-calling now an acceptable form of journalism at the New York Times?), his declaration of the video’s “symbolic significance” bears consideration. Are we at a “historic turning point” in the fight over the redefinition of marriage? Are we who do not want to radically redefine marriage now “depopulated and isolated” (not to mention “brain-dead”)?
In some ways, it does seem that the tide is turning in favor of the gay activists, who it seems will not rest in their battle to gain societal sanctioning of their lifestyles. Even bans on same-sex marriage and gubernatorial vetoes are no longer enough to stop the redefinition of marriage in some states. Clearly, something more is needed, and the persistent pounding of the GLBT drum on this issue may in the end be enough to simply wear out the opposition’s drive to even care about the issue. As Kirk and Madsen put it in 1989’s After the Ball: “The main thing is to talk about gayness until the issue becomes thoroughly tiresome.” Will the silent majority of Americans who do not want to redefine marriage, as well as those Rich so callously (and inaccurately) describes as “homophobic activis[ts]” in the “anti-gay movement,” be able to withstand this continued onslaught?
Good arguments and interesting videos, while needed, will be insufficient in this battle. The fight will continue on the legal and political fronts, as well it should, but the problems go deeper than law, and they transcend politics. In the end, we are in need of nothing less than divine visitation, resulting in changed hearts and lives. Rich may be overstating his case with his proclamations of the “anti-gay movement[‘s]” death, but his assessment of societal trends are not without merit. God is our only hope… He would not have it any other way.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty released a full page ad in the New York Times today entitled No Mob Veto. It calls for an end to violence toward religious institutions that supported Proposition 8, and is signed by leaders representing various faiths. The letter is reprinted below (click on it to enable zoom):
For those that would like to show their support for the ad, you can add your name to the letter on their website NoMobVeto.org. Be aware however, that it calls for one questionable commitment that may prevent some of you from adding your name, specifically.: “Furthermore, beginning today, we commit ourselves to exposing and publicly shaming anyone who resorts to the rhetoric of anti-religious bigotry – against any faith, on any side of any cause, for any reason.” Is this really a commitment that authentic believers in the Messiah should promise to undertake? Why would we “commit” ourselves to “publicly shame” everyone that commits a certain act, let alone something as open-ended and all-inclusive as committing “anti-religious bigotry” (whatever that may mean) towards “any faith, on any side of any cause, for any reason.” Is Satanism included? How about death-crazed Islam? Are people like Joel Richardson of Joel’s Trumpet, who are rightfully (and non-violently) exposing this demonic manifestation of Islam guilty of “anti-religious bigotry”?
Overall, however, the Becket Fund ad should be commended for its clear and uncompromising call to end religious intimidation and violence. (For those who have signed the letter, I encourage you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.)
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT lobbying group and political action committee, posted a response to the ad on their website, reprinted below:
Demand the Truth
HRC’s Religion and Faith program launches response to untruthful NY Times ad.
Today, members of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion Council responded forcefully to a full-page ad in the New York Times that implies there is an organized attempt to foment mob intimidation and violence toward the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints due to its actions dehumanizing lesbian and gay people in the recent election campaign, particularly in California around passage of Proposition 8, which stripped gay families of the right to a civil marriage. The ad was sponsored by NoMobVeto.org, a project of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
When did the LDS Church become the victim? It’s hard to believe, but that is exactly what it is trying to convince the public of. It is continuing to spend an excess of dollars in an attempt to mislead the public and transform its image. But the truth is that this is the same church that conducted a national broadcast to every temple, calling on members to organize and write checks to the Prop 8 campaign. The same church that donated more than half of the $40 million behind Prop 8, even though California Mormons represent just 2 percent of the state’s population. Yes, it’s the same church.
Don’t allow them to replace the truth with their own version of the truth. Use our Religion Council’s message today to take action and demand the truth:
Click here to write a letter to the New York Times
Click here to send an email to the Becket Fund, the organization that paid for the misleading New York Times ad
Click here to share your personal story with NoMobVeto.org and let them know how the passage of Prop 8 affected your life
What HRC’s Religion Council had to say:
“Several signatories to the ad are generals in the culture wars,” said Rev. Susan Russell of All Saints Church (Epsicopal), Pasadena, Calif. “They lied about gay people in the campaign, and now they are lying again when they say we are in favor of mob intimidation and violence. I personally talked legitimately angry demonstrators in California out of such action and every credible LGBT organization called for peaceful resistance to the Prop 8 travesty. Many of the leaders cited in this ad preach hate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, then look the other way when LGBT people are the victims of hate crimes. This ad is an act of individual and corporate hypocrisy.”
Bishop John Selders of Amistad United Church of Christ in Hartford, Conn. commented, “As an African-American, I’ve heard this before. A few frustrated members of a minority group respond in anger to a new indignity and the oppressor calls them anarchists. Satan, sometimes called the Father of Lies, is at work when powerful people seek to dehumanize those who are less powerful.”
Rev. Dr. Miguel de la Torre of Iliff School of Theology in Denver agreed, “I am always struck that those in power, those who manipulate the truth to maintain oppressive structures, present themselves to the public as the ones being persecuted. Make no mistake, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a powerful organization with an agenda of imposing a narrow religious view upon the rest of America. As we Hispanics say, ‘que vergüenza’ (what a shameful act).”
“Calls for tolerance of certain religious viewpoints rings hollow in a world where religion often stands by tolerating violence perpetrated on God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children,” was Rev. Dr. Erin Swenson’s reply. Dr. Swenson is a Presbyterian minister and psychotherapist in Atlanta.
Rev. Dr. Ken Stone of Chicago Theological Seminary said, “While I agree that violence and anti-religious bigotry need to be combated, we must also demand an end to the violence undertaken by those religious institutions that not only encourage but also fund bigotry against lesbians and gay men. Where will the Becket Fund be when we call for endorsements of hate crimes and employment protection legislation for LGBT people?”
Here’s what Rev. Dr. Mary A. Tolbert of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the Pacific School of Religion had to say: “The ‘No Mob Veto’ ad would be more convincing as a statement of concern for civil debate over the well-organized and well-funded participation of the LDS church in the passage of Prop 8 had it not itself ended with a clear threat of intimidation toward anyone criticizing that church’s role in the election. As the Christian gospels demonstrate in Jesus’ action of overturning the tables of money-lenders in the temple, sometimes speaking the truth to entrenched and wealthy religious leaders requires a dramatic stroke. To protest the enormous financial involvement of a religious body in stripping equal rights from California LGBT people, their families, and their children is in no way anti-religious bigotry; it is instead, like the example of Jesus in the temple, an attempt to speak the truth to those rooted in power and wealth whose actions serve to deprive other human beings of the equal respect and dignity all of God’s children deserve.”
Rev. Rebecca Voelkel of the Institute for Welcoming Resources of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force summed up: “As a Christian, I was taught not to ‘bear false witness.’ One of the deepest tragedies of the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign in California was its bearing false witness– more plainly stated, its lies– about the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. This ad is one more example. In response to the passage of Proposition 8, faithful, honorable, patriotic Americans from every walk of life and of many sexual orientations and gender identities gathered to say no to lies and yes to love, truth and the American way. To name these overwhelmingly peaceful gatherings as mobs dishonors me, my family, members of my church and so many others who participated in them. As a Christian, my religious tradition also admonishes me to speak the truth in love. Therefore, I prayerfully ask those who have run this ad and others like it, to stop your false witness. Instead, and especially in these times, our country and our world need all of us, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, pagans and all people of faith, to work on behalf of the dignity of all human beings.”
The HRC’s response to the ad is fascinating because it accuses the LDS Church of conducting “a national broadcast to every temple, calling on members to organize and write checks to the Prop 8 campaign” and donating “more than half of the $40 million behind Prop 8, even though California Mormons represent just 2 percent of the state’s population.” Has encouraging people to make a difference for the cause of righteousness and authentic love now become illegal or immoral?
In addition, the HRC has somehow convinced themselves that it is virtually impossible for Mormons to ever be victims, asking: “When did the LDS Church become the victim? It’s hard to believe, but that is exactly what it is trying to convince the public of.” The HRC needs to wake up and realize that it is indeed possible for other groups to be mistreated in this country, even organizations they believe to be “oppressors.”
As if these strange accusations and perceptions weren’t enough, next to the article on the HRC’s website, the link to the Becket Fund’s letter states “Click on the image below to read the untruthful ad”. One wonders how the ad was untruthful, since the HRC article never makes that clear. The only direct accusation made concerning what the ad allegedly “lied about” was not found in the main HRC article but in a quote from Rev. Susan Russell who said, “They lied about gay people in the campaign, and now they are lying again when they say we are in favor of mob intimidation and violence.” Her comments, however, are highly inaccurate. The ad never stated that the LGBT community was in favor of mob intimidation and violence – in fact, gays and lesbians were never even mentioned in the Becket Fund ad. The point they were making was that the LGBT community (without mentioning them by name) had either turned a blind eye toward or made excuses for the behavior of those who engaged in mob intimidation. Rather than accusing the writers of this ad of being “untruthful” without backing up their claims in the slightest, perhaps the HRC should consider taking the ad’s rebuke seriously and start leading the charge against religious violence and intimidation in their community.
It’s encouraging to see organizations such as the Becket Fund stand up for religious liberty and call for an end to religious violence and intimidation. Mormons, believing Christians, and people of other faiths (or even non-faiths) have the right to let their voices be heard and to affect positive change in society. They should not be punished for their success.