Friday, October 31, 2008

To Help You Decide VI

Distortions, Distractions, Characters and Character

Character matters. I want my President to be a person of character and judgment as well as of ability and vision. And one measure of the character of a candidate is to look at the company that candidate keeps. But this is not always a reliable measure. Ask Jesus.

And in this campaign a particularly insidious pattern of character assassination by distortion and association has emerged. The pattern:

1. Scour the Candidate’s biography to find every person he has ever associated with; whether the association is significant or tenuous doesn’t matter. Choose public servants, public services agencies, or men of God whom most Americans have never heard of. Make sure that, despite their public anonymity, they have done significant good for the American people, their local communities, and/or the Kingdom of God.

2. Scour the servants' histories, records and biographies. Ignore the significant good they have done through secular or spiritual means. Look only for their sins, perceived sins, or acts attributed to them as sins.

3. Tell the American people of those sins (or perceived or attributed sins) Define this person or agency by the sins. Be sure that Americans can never think of this person or agency without focusing on their sins (or perceive or attributed sins). Assure that the simple mention of their name calls to mind their sins.

4. Remember that most Americans are too lazy to assess the whole picture. Lazy Americans believe the first thing we hear. Not-so-lazy Americans verify the bad, but don’t bother to explore the good, or the timing (this happened a long time ago), the interpretation, the misunderstanding, or even the reason for the bad.

This is the recipe for the perfect feast of smear politics. Anyone who wants to can wallow in the scum and let it confuse them.

The last step (5) is to tell the voters that the Candidate’s association with this public servant, man of God, or service agency reflects bad judgment and character.

In the end, these folks assassinate the character, not only of the targeted Candidate, but of others who are actually working for good.

If you are truly trying to decide, I ask that you not believe the first thing you hear. I encourage to research who these people are, how God has worked in and through them, and what their intentions are for the good of this nation. Don’t assume that the first thing you hear about them is the truth.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

To Help You Decide V (Part II)

The Role of Government and Personal Responsibility

The question from an earlier post:

“Why is it the government's job to take care of people? I guess where I'm coming from is didn't Christ command the church to take care of those less fortunate? At what point did it become the taxpayer's responsibility?”

Obama resonates with the question to a large degree. In Kissimmee, Florida, on October 29, Obama explained his views: "Lately they've been calling me a socialist. They've found evidence that when I was in kindergarten I used to share my toys . . . They said 'look he's a redistributionist'… My Bible tells me there is nothing wrong with helping other people, that we want to treat others like we want to be treated. That I am my brother's keeper, and I am my sister's keeper. I believe that."

But if it is exclusively the church’s duty to care for people, I know of a church that agrees with my friend who asked the questions, except that they don’t exactly “take care” of people. What they do is to serve people who need jobs, homes, motivation, skills, health care, and Jesus.

They encourage their members to serve the community--to strengthen it in practical and godly ways. They hammer into their members the value of working to strengthen families and to not settle for the mediocre. They call people to self –sacrifice for the good of the kingdom of God.

And they remind people that government can’t solve their problems. In fact in a now famous sermon entitled “God and Government,” their pastor made these points about trusting in government:

Governments fail. God never fails!
Governments lie. God never lies!
Governments change. God never changes!

That church on the south side of Chicago is Trinity United Church of Christ. The preacher is Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. And the sermon is the infamous G-D-America sermon. God never fails. God never lies. God never changes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

To Help You Decide V

The Role of Government and Personal Responsibility

I tread lightly here because home-schooling moms, Constitution law professors, and all confirmed Libertarians know more about the “proper role of government” than I do. I can’t speak confidently from a Constitutional law perspective. But I can speak about my own views based on my Christian experience and reflection. I know a lot more about the Bible than about the Constitution

I know this much: the proper role of government is at least partly a matter of opinion. It is because of those opinions that the founders struggled to put in place checks and balances—to balance the power. It is because of those differences of opinion that they followed the body of the Constitution with a bill of rights. And we have, with new societal challenges, found ourselves opining and deciding about further amendments.

To get into this, I remember the question Jennifer D asked regarding an earlier post:

“Why is it the government's job to take care of people? I guess where I'm coming from is didn't Christ command the church to take care of those less fortunate? At what point did it become the taxpayer's responsibility?”

So… In my view it is NOT government’s job to “take care” of people. And more than any other Democrat in recent memory, Barack Obama states that fact ad nauseam. The nation first heard his views at the 2004 DNC speech:

“The people I meet -- in small towns and big cities, in diners and office parks -- they don’t expect government to solve all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead, and they want to… People don't expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all.”

People don’t need government (the political establishment, elected officials, other power-brokers) to fix everything for them, and too often government (same definition) is the problem.

But the other fact I know is that when we say “government” in the American context, we are properly talking about the people, not the power brokers. American government is made up of all Americans—this is the genius of the American experiment. Barack Obama believes (ideologically) that “the proper role of government” goes beyond the Constitutional allowance, to the sentiment that I am my brother’s and sister’s keeper.

He does NOT believe that government (either definition) is responsible for taking care of people. But he does believe that those in power (wealth, position, status) should not be allowed to increase in power at the expense of opportunity for the weak. How my Christian brothers and sisters miss the biblical spirit of this view escapes me.

God sides with the last, the lost, and the least-- over the powerful. “Okay, Tony” you say, “but it’s the church that God is talking about to take up that battle.” And I say, “The church is not a building (as if a building could act) nor is it primarily a societal entity. It is the people—collected.”

So if the church is the people and the government is the people, we don’t have as clean a distinction as that phrase “separation of church and state” might suggest. I have to go with being a Christian over being an American citizen all within the American context.

So here’s how I see it:

1. When God establishes priorities: protect the weak, defend the oppressed, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, redeem the enslaved, God doesn’t much care whether we do so individually or governmentally. We simply better be careful that in our individual or governmental lives we are not opposing God. It is still the church whether it operates through government or not.

2. God is less concerned with our stated stance on an issue than on our

a) heart-place and `

b) actions.

So, for instance, we can shout at the top of our lungs that we are pro-life, but if that sentiment is not true to our hearts and/or is not reflected in our actions, then what does it profit?

3. Among the “proper roles of government” are to protect the innocents, to maintain order, to ensure equal opportunity (not equal results), to ensure that power does not increase exponentially among the rich and powerful while diminishing reciprocally among the poor and weak.

4. What does matter: What are the effective ways, the wisest ways, and life-giving ways to carry out God’s agenda, and what is simply meaningless chatter or activity?

Again, I know more about the Bible than about the Constitution. So you might have to talk to a homeschool mom, a Libertarian, or a Constitutional law professor (like Barack Obama).

Please Pray for James Dobson

If you are a Focus on the Family listener, you are probably aware that Dr. Dobson (whom I used to respect) has mailed out a mean-spirited, unChristian, unsubstantiated attack upon Barack Obama, speculating about what might happen by 2012 should Barack Obama be elected president. It is meant to scare people into voting against the Senator, based on unfounded, fear-based speculation. It is hateful in foundation and lacking altogether in truth or love. Among the charges:

*Churches that refuse to perform same-sex marriages would lose their tax-exempt status

*“under God” in the Pledge would be declared unconstitutional

*Doctors and nurses who won't perform abortions will no longer be able to deliver babies

*Pornography would be openly displayed on newsstands

*Inner-city crime increases when gun ownership is restricted

*Homeschooling would become restricted, so thousands of homeschooling parents emigrate to other countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

*Since 2009, terrorist bombs have exploded in two large and two small U.S. cities, killing hundreds, and the entire country is fearful, for no place seems safe."

*Euthanasia is becoming more and more common.

*New carbon emission standards drive many coal-powered electric plants out of business. "The country has less total electric power available than in 2008, and periodic blackouts to conserve energy occur on a regular schedule throughout the nation."

To suggest that Obama and the Democrats even WANT these things is despicable. But that doesn’t stop my Christian brothers and sisters at Focus on the Family from saying it. And it doesn’t stop their listeners from believing it. And this comes from someone who is supposed to be a Christian leader speaking about his Christian brother.

This is ridiculous and indefensible fear-mongering. It is outrageous! Obama’s policies will not lead to all this garbage as Dobson speculates. And my brother, Dr. Dobson, either knows it is untrue and is disseminating lies, or he doesn’t know it and is disseminating foolishness. Either way he needs my prayers. As do all of those who listen.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Last Call: Tony and Barry

These are the last articles I've given interviews for. The London Observer/Guardian interview was several months ago, but just published today. The Denver Post interview was actually this week. Once again the Post also quotes my little brother, Keith.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

To Help You Decide IV

On Abortion

First, let me possibly save you some time. If you believe that there’s only one way to stop women from having abortions and that that way is to elect a pro-life President who can appoint pro-life justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, you might as well stop reading now. I can’t help you.

If you think “I support a woman’s right to choose” means “I want to kill babies” or even “I don’t care if babies are killed,” I can save you time. There’s no sense reading what I have to say.

But if you’re pro-life, like I am, and you really want us to do whatever we can to stop women from aborting babies, we’re on the same page; read on.

Second, I’m ashamedly aware that one reason this abortion issue gets so thorny is that most of us who claim to be pro-life do absolutely NOTHING to stop women from aborting babies. So election day comes around and we think we’re DOING something by electing a pro-life President. See how effective we’ve been in the past eight years?

I am 100% pro-life/anti-abortion. So, what is our Christian pro-life obligation regarding a Presidential election? I think it is to elect the person with the best chance of stopping the most abortions. I KNOW we can do better than eight years of nothing.

Here’s the Obama argument as I see it. I base this argument on statements he has made consistently over the course of his campaign. I also hope it explains and reflects fairly his voting record. I’ll provide citations upon request, but for your one-stop shopping on this issue I recommend

1. Barack Obama says consistently “I don’t know anyone who is pro-abortion.” So he asks, “Since most Americans are against abortion, but choice is the law of the land, what can we do to make it easier for women to choose to bring their babies to term?” More below.

2. Obama says that liberals who gloss over the moral dimensions of abortion make a big mistake. Most women who have to make the moral, difficult, and personal abortion decision do not take it lightly. Obama himself talks of teaching his girls (in time) of the sacredness of sexuality, the morality of sexual decisions, the primacy of abstinence, and (eventually) the responsibility of birth control.

3. Because he believes this is a moral decision, he believes it should be left to a woman, her family, her pastoral advisors and her doctors. It should NOT be made by the government.

4. (Another way to say #3) He is supportive of a woman’s right to choose as reflected in Roe v. Wade.

Now my perspective:

1. I have to admit that I had to resolve the abortion issue before I could whole-heartedly support Sen. Obama for President. Obama’s voting record on abortion is indisputable and troubling. Too often the voting record is all we have to go on. So I understand that for many Americans who are trying to understand who Barack Obama is and where he stands, voting record is the most reliable indication.

But I am not most Americans. I have had a personal relationship with the man. I see my intelligent, good-hearted, Constitution-loving Christian brother voting in a way that I don’t agree with, and I have to ask “why?”

Thanks to the contentiousness of his opponents (and the process) and the conscientiousness of the press, both friend and foe, Obama has answered these questions over and over. That his opponents keep stirring the pot is no indication that he has provided inadequate answers. His answers ring true to the thoughtful, big-hearted, law-loving person I know. The clearest answers regarding abortion issues were given to the brave Cameron Strang at Relevant Magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

Strang: Based on emails we received, another issue of deep importance to our readers is a candidate’s stance on abortion. We largely know your platform, but there seems to be some real confusion about your position on third-trimester and partial-birth abortions. Can you clarify your stance for us?

Obama: I absolutely can, so please don’t believe the emails. I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.

The other email rumor that’s been floating around is that somehow I’m unwilling to see doctors offer life-saving care to children who were born as a result of an induced abortion. That’s just false. There was a bill that came up in Illinois that was called the “Born Alive” bill that purported to require life-saving treatment to such infants. And I did vote against that bill. The reason was that there was already a law in place in Illinois that said that you always have to supply life-saving treatment to any infant under any circumstances, and this bill actually was designed to overturn Roe v. Wade, so I didn’t think it was going to pass constitutional muster.

Ever since that time, emails have been sent out suggesting that, somehow, I would be in favor of letting an infant die in a hospital because of this particular vote. That’s not a fair characterization, and that’s not an honest characterization. It defies common sense to think that a hospital wouldn't provide life-saving treatment to an infant that was alive and had a chance of survival.

2. I can’t make any sense out of Roe v. Wade. I will not lift a finger to support it. But neither will I generate any energy to try to elect a president who says he’s pro-life and who hopes to overturn Roe v. Wade.

First, I don’t believe this opportunity will come through the US President anytime soon. Consider the evidence not only of the past eight years, but of the past 28 years since abortion has been a factor in Presidential elections. Twenty of the years have been under Republican, pro-life Presidents. Seven of nine justices were appointed by Republican Presidents. Still, we have seen nary (did I say “nary”?) a crack in Roe v. Wade (thanks to Jon Trott for this observation). The Supreme Court is not ready to overturn Roe v. Wade. Neither is the nation.

Nor do I believe that that overturning would save babies. Certainly not very soon. Meanwhile, as by brothers and sisters note, babies are dying.

3. So does anyone have a plan to stop the killing? Barack Obama does. The fullest expression of that plan can be found (once again) at prolifeproobama.

A truncated version is reprinted here from the aforementioned Relevant Magazine article.

Strang: You’ve said you’re personally against abortion and would like to see a reduction in the number of abortions under your administration. So, as president, how would do you propose accomplishing that?

Obama: I think we know that abortions rise when unwanted pregnancies rise. So, if we are continuing what has been a promising trend in the reduction of teen pregnancies, through education and abstinence education giving good information to teenagers. That is important—emphasizing the sacredness of sexual behavior to our children. I think that’s something that we can encourage. I think encouraging adoptions in a significant way. I think the proper role of government. So there are ways that we can make a difference, and those are going to be things I focus on when I am president.

4. Finally I return to some of my opening comments: Saying I’m pro-choice does not kill babies any more than saying I’m pro-life saves babies. We act like we're picking our favorite sports team. Let's say I root for the Titans over the Colts. If the Titans win, I might feel like I did something, when my stance had absolutely nothing to do with the win!

We are used to politicians telling us their stances, and we vote accordingly. But Senator Obama seems more ready than others to tell us whatever we want to know about WHY he holds the stances he does or WHY he voted the way he did. You may not always agree with him, but you gotta love his transparency, his thoughtfulness, his compassion and his vision for using government to actually solve problems.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

To Help You Decide III

Taxes and Wealth
Many of my dear Christian conservative friends walk up to me and say, “Tony, I really like your guy for President. I really like him. It’s just this one thing…” It always baffles me when that one issue is that Barack Obama proposes “the redistribution of wealth.”

For some, this is an issue of fairness. For me, it is too. But we disagree on what is fair.

One version of the argument says that we should embrace a flat 15% tax policy. The rich already pay taxes at a higher rate. The flat rate sounds fair. I might agree, all things being equal. The problem is that all things are not equal. Wealth buys opportunity and that opportunity does not pass on equally to others (children, grandchildren).

One response from my friends is that the rich got rich by hard work. When I responded with a particular example of a struggling less-than-wealthy person, I was reminded that this poorer person got in the situation through his own bad life decisions.

So here’s my thinking:

Working hard is good.
Making moral decisions is good.
Making wise decisions is good.

But measuring a person’s work ethic, morality or wisdom by their bank account is unwise, illogical and un-Christian.

I do NOT agree that wealthy people are necessarily harder workers than middle class or poor people. I have had too much experience with hard-working poor people and lazy rich people to believe that. I have no need to believe that rich people are necessarily lazy (or immoral or stupid). I believe that hard work can lead to wealth. But I also believe hard workers and lazy people cut across income levels. And I believe we will find moral/godly people across all income levels. And I believe we can find wise/intelligent people in all income levels.

My Christian faith says that sin takes several forms and transcends many factors. Some of the forms: ignorance, immorality, and laziness. The factors transcended: income level, nationality, race, culture, language. If we are judging people according to the latter and attaching them to the former, we are not reflecting a biblical worldview. Bottom line is this: I believe it to be indeterminable whether a person’s wealth is attributable to hard work, morality or ingenuity, although all three are admirable and could be factors.

So in a Presidential election the question is: What role can government play in assuring that hard working, moral, disciplined and wise people can make the money they need to support their families and to move up in the world.

That opportunity for middle class or poor people will never approach the opportunity that the already wealthy already have, but government should operate to make more fair the playing field. This is not the same as socialism, Communism , "handouts," or taking from the hardworking rich to give to the lazy poor. It is simply an issue of justice.

A policy that protects the wealth of the wealthy, (regardless of how they amassed it) while making it increasingly difficult for those trying to make it, is simply unjust and unchristian.

So the question for a just society is still one of fairness. If I am right that moral, intelligent, hard-working people exist on levels of income, then justice demands that a fair government do whatever it can to assure (at least) that moral and hardworking people have the opportunity to amass wealth and provide for their families.

The policies Barack Obama advocates are nowhere near socialism. They do not level income or general wealth. They don’t even level the playing field, but they do make the playing field MORE fair. And they do so by asking those with power (wealth is power) to do their part to help others to gain some power to provide for their families and serve society better. Obama speaks of this as answering Cain’s question of God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Obama believes that God’s unrecorded answer is “Yes, you are!”

To Help You Decide II

If you’re still trying to decide who you’ll vote for in the Presidential election, I want to persuade you to support Barack Obama. My support for Obama comes with reasons. These are NOT those reasons:

1. My support of Barack Obama is not just because we were friends in high school. I have lots of high school friends whom I would not consider supporting for President of the United States. If you’re my friend now I might not support you, should you run for office (in fact, you’d likely be disqualified by your associations!).

But my friendship with Barack Obama does give me some advantages over people who are trying to get to know who he is. My friendship did make me pay attention to him earlier than most Americans did. But mostly my friendship allowed me to trust him when he speaks. The man I see now rings true to the kid I knew then. So I'm not afraid his good words are shallow or deceptive, while some of my undecided friends are: “He speaks well, but…”

And when I read the smears about his character (patriotism, Christian faith, ideology,…), I can ask “Does this ring true to the Barry I knew?” None of them do.

2. My support for Obama is not because he’s the Democrat. I have voted for Republicans and Democrats for President. And until this year, I’ve always gone into the booth holding my nose (figuratively). I registered (D) this year because I ignorantly thought I couldn’t vote in the primary otherwise.

3. My support for Obama is not because he’s African American. I will admit that if all things were equal and I had to choose between a white man for President and a black man--after 43 straight white male Presidents--I’d vote for the black guy. Without apology or shame. But, not to worry: All things are NEVER equal. So I have to look at all things. The Presidential election is no time for “he-looks-like-me, she-could-be-in-my-club, we–could-have-a-beer-together” identity politics. And I don’t support the view that says we should elect an unqualified black man to “make history.”

4. My support for Obama is not simply because “he gives good speeches.” While I think inspirational speeches have their place, they are not enough. Fortunately, Barack Obama offers way more than good speeches and delivery. More of that in later posts.

5. My support for Obama is not because I think he’s perfect. He’s not running for Messiah. We’ve got one of those, and I’m quite satisfied with Him, thank you. He’s not running for Savior. I like the Real Savior of the World. But for President I do want to vote for someone whose character, intelligence, abilities and plans can make a positive difference in our nation and the world.

Next: To the issues.

Friday, October 17, 2008

To Help You Decide

Alright, folks: it’s crunch time. You still have two and a half weeks to vote. But the debates are over. The information is out there. And there still seems to be a block of voters who are having a tough time making up their minds.

Some of the people I talk to I’d like to call Committed Undecideds. They won’t know who they’re voting for until they step into the booth. I’m not sure what constrains them. Is it good old fashioned American hyper-individuality (If a lot of people like a candidate, they must be wrong)? Is it looking for a messiah and realizing none of these people quite fit the bill? I'm not sure how to help the CUs.

I know other people who honestly want to make the best decision but are torn. They are among my closest friends. And because we are close, they have known for a long time of my “Committed Decided” stance in this election. So the most common comment I hear is, “Tony, I really like your guy --no-one has yet called him ‘That One’ to my face--I really like your guy, except for This One Thing…” It would be great if that one thing were the same for everyone. It’s not. So God willing, it’s time for me to start giving my argument for supporting Barack Obama.

I will be discussing issues in the posts to come. But in my next post I’ll tell you what is NOT true about my Obama support.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

About the Debates, But Not the Issues

When you're in a debate
and it's starting to sink,
a blink, I think,
is as good as a wink.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Me at My Worst

If you know me IRL (in real life), you might want to screen your calls. Any day now you’re likely to get a phone call or e-mail asking for dirt on me. Feel free to respond as honestly as you can. They’ll be looking for my worst deeds, my worst words, and --if they could get to ‘em –my worst thoughts. Why would they care so much about me? Because of my association with Barack Obama.

And don’t hesitate to tell all you know of my association. It was at one time a significant relationship. I don’t mean we simply sat on some charitable boards together. Or that we supported some of the same uplifting causes, like helping Americans exercise their voting rights. I don’t mean that I was just someone like a pastor, whose every opinion could be attributed to him. No, we were actually FRIENDS. I don’t deny it. If he remembers, he won’t either. We gathered regularly and talked about whatever was important to us. We talked a lot. And since he was only 14 while I was 17, my influential words (deeds and thoughts) are probably particularly significant to attribute to Senator Obama.

But I advise you to be careful. If you do answer the requests, that puts you in the loop too. What’s in YOUR closet? If you are a practicing Christian, what was your pre-Christian life like? Those bad deeds (words or thoughts) could also be attributed to Barack Obama. If you don’t want all of America to hear about it so that it can be stuck to Obama, you might not want to answer the call after all.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Made for Radio

I was on BBC's Talking America broadcast from Nashville today. I was going just to be part of the studio audience, but I was asked to ask a question. Listen for yourself.