Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Political Q and A

By John Shelby Spong

From time to time I receive a letter which requires an answer that is too long for the question and answer format of this column, so I have to use it as the column itself. Such is the case this week, so I will interrupt my Matthew series for a week to respond to this question. JSS

Gavin Young, from Las Vegas via the Internet, writes:
I have said before in response to some of your columns and I will say it again, you need to stay out of politics and stick with theology. I can’t believe the misinformation about and defense and support for our current Celebrity-in-Chief, BHO (Barack Hussein Obama) aka Barry Soetoro. First of all, the President has NO AUTHORITY other than what he’s given himself to initiate a war. He/She MUST HAVE Congress’s approval. In what can only be described as a patronizing speech, BHO asserted FIRST OF ALL, that he has the right and authority to start a war or attack Syria WITHOUT Congress’s approval. He then went on to say that he would allow Congress its opinion as a gesture of “good will,” but again, he reiterated that the authority rests solely with him. Really?

Witness the recent barricades around the people’s monuments in DC or the cancellation of the Army/Navy football game. BHO has no right to perpetrate such acts. Bishop Spong, please wake up and get real about this “President.” No presidency has been so shrouded in secrecy from its very beginning. BHO is very quickly becoming a dictator and history is repeating itself. What are you going to do when you wake up one morning and we’re under martial law and all your Constitutional rights have been stripped? When you’re no longer allowed to write your column or books because you’re a Christian? At last count, President Obama has committed at least 13 impeachable acts during his presidency yet no one stands up to him. When is a law not a law? When BHO says it is or it isn’t.

I am frightened for our country, very frightened. Please get more information (i.e. the other side of the story) before making pronouncements in favor of BHO. Have you ever asked yourself why BHO’s aka, Barry Soetoro, is registered to vote at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? And what about the fact that his long form birth certificate is now well known to be a complete forgery? And as far as trying to curtail our debt, well the facts speak for themselves. When the national debt reaches $20 trillion, our economy will implode within a few hours. May God forbid that ever happens. The USA is already #16 in best countries to live in. What’s up with that? And what caused it? I love you dearly, Bishop, and am a HUGE fan of yours (please come to Las Vegas), but you really need to become as well informed about politics as you are about theology and biblical interpretation.

Dear Gavin,
I really love it when I get a letter like yours, filled as it is with prejudice, veiled racism and profound ignorance and you want me to stay out of politics and stick with theology? Then in an act of rare hubris you not only accuse me of “misinformation,” but you then proceed to illustrate your charge with the most egregious expression of right wing extremism I have read in a long time! So let me respond to your tirade with as much rationality as I can muster.

Do you want me to stay out of politics so that your feelings about politics will not be challenged? What is your understanding of being a Christian? Have you ever read the Bible? When Jesus sums up the Law, the Torah, he does so by exhorting us to love God and to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke has Jesus define our neighbor as a Samaritan, the object of the deepest Jewish prejudice in that era. So, how do I love my neighbor? It seems to me that one does that by opposing all the things that dehumanize a fellow human being.

What does that mean politically? It means one works against slavery, against segregation and against any other form of social prejudice. It means one works for equal pay for women. One works to see that women have equal access to higher education, equal opportunity in every area of society from religion to the military, to equal opportunity in business success. It means that one opposes everything that holds up the glass ceiling on women’s aspirations and to be either the President of the United States or the Pope.

It means that one builds a basic dignity into the social fabric of this nation which mandates that a safety net will always be present in our national life beyond which no one is allowed to fall. It means that one works for an equitable tax policy that will not allow the wealthy so many loopholes, which only they can exploit, so that they wind up paying a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than do their secretaries or maintenance personnel. It means that one works to remove discriminatory laws against gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people. It means that one seeks to provide adequate health care for all citizens whether they can afford it or not. It means that one does not allow workers to be exploited or to work in unsafe conditions.

It means that society adopts a minimum wage high enough to allow one who works full time to be able to live on his/her pay. It means that one does not allow an economic system to develop that grinds away until 90% of the wealth of this nation is in the hands of one percent of the population. Those are the ways we follow the mandate to love our neighbors as ourselves!
This kind of society does not just happen it is created by the decision-making bodies elected to govern the corporate society. That is what the political process is. Do you really think that because one has a religious perspective one should be disqualified to speak out on political decision making? Can worship be separated from justice and still have any integrity?

Your hostility toward the president of the United States, a man elected handily in 2008 and re-elected by a margin of more that 5,000,000 votes on 2012, would be laughable if it were not so distorted! “Our Celebrity-in-Chief?” You sound jealous! Your use of BHO (Barack Hussein Obama)) and Barry Soetoro” as names for the president reveals your pettiness. Your suggestion that he has no authority to initiate a war is out of touch with the facts of history. Presidents, as commander in chief, have always had the right and the duty to respond with force when the nation’s people or our vital interests have been attacked. In 1950 President Truman responded to an attack by the forces of North Korea on our ally South Korea, with whom we had a mutual defense treaty. People called it not a war, but “a police action,” but it cost this nation 50,000 members of the armed forces and caused us to commit a huge army in the field, first commanded by Douglas MacArthur, later by Matthew Ridgeway and during that “police action” this nation carried out a full scale invasion by sea at Inchon. The Korean War did not begin with a declaration of war by Congress, but with the decision of the President. Yes, under the Constitution, only the Congress can declare war, but the Commander-in-Chief has to respond to an attack when it occurs. Waiting until the legislative body can act is not always possible.

This president, whom you disparage so crudely, has stopped a war in Iraq, he is winding down a war in Afghanistan and he was able by using the threat of war to get Syria to dismantle and to destroy its arsenal of chemical weapons without a war. Your lack of knowledge about the history of this nation is substantial. Ignorance is not a sin, but it does disqualify you from being taken seriously by me or anyone else.

Your rhetoric reaches levels of mental disorientation when you talk about Mr. Obama becoming a dictator, by suggesting that he is guilty of 13 impeachable acts, by suggesting that his administration has been shrouded in secrecy and by talking about one’s constitutional rights being stripped away.

Your rhetoric sounds like the paranoid elements of the NRA that seem to think that a required background check before one can purchase a gun is tantamount to stripping us of our constitutional rights. Every single one of the world’s great democracies except the United States requires a background check for gun ownership. The universal result of that requirement is not the loss of a constitutional right, but the significant lowering of the murder rate in those nations. For you to claim that the birth certificate of this president is “well known to be a complete forgery” is to reveal that you no longer live in a world of rationality.

You tell me that I am not qualified to speak on non-theological issues. I do not know the basis upon which you make that statement, but let me do something that I seldom do in order to call your thinking into question. Let me share with you my credentials that qualify me to participate publicly in the political debate in our nation. I have engaged in a life long study of both history and politics. I have written a weekly column for 14 years that seeks to explore and to illumine every area of human life. As a national columnist I have been credentialed to be part of the press corps attending the national political nominating conventions on two occasions. I have interviewed major political figures. I have been interviewed by Bill O’Reilly, William F. Buckley, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Charles Gibson, Kathleen Sullivan, Peter Jennings, Bill Maher and many others. I have read biographies of every president of the United States. I have traveled to most of the nations of the world. I hold seven honorary doctorates from major universities in America. I was elected to be the Quatercentenary scholar at Emmanuel College of Cambridge University in England in 1991 and chosen to be the William Belden Noble Lecturer at Harvard University in 2000. My portrait was commissioned to be painted and to hang in the “Hall of Honor” at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Chapel at Morehouse College in Atlanta for my contributions to civil and human rights. I believe I have earned the right to be part of my nation’s political debate. You certainly have the right to disagree with me on any issue, but I have serious questions about whether you have earned the right to stand in judgment on me.

I’m glad you are “a huge fan.” I hope some of my values might rub off.

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