Monday, September 25, 2017

Plantinga's Prestigious Prize

Alvin Plantinga is not a well-known name among the broader public, but his is one of the best known and most respected names among contemporary Christian philosophers. Yesterday (Sept. 24) he was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize at The Field Museum in Chicago.
Who Is Plantinga?
Alvin Plantinga is an American philosopher whose main work is in the philosophy of religion and epistemology. He served as president of the Society of Christian Philosophers from 1983 to 1986.
The son of first-generation immigrants from the Netherlands, Plantinga was born in 1932. He graduated from Calvin College, where his father was then teaching, and then after completing his Ph.D. at Yale University, his teaching career was mostly at Calvin College and the University of Notre Dame.
Plantinga’s most influential books are God and Other Minds (1967), and a trilogy of books on epistemology, culminating in Warranted Christian Belief (2000). The later was revised for a wider audience and published as Knowledge and Christian Belief in 2016.
Also, Alvin Plantinga is the title of a book published in 2007 by Cambridge University in their “Contemporary Philosophy in Focus” series. 
Meeting Plantinga
The Society of Christian Philosophers organized a conference on the campus of Peking University in the fall of 1994. I was able to fly from Fukuoka, Japan, to Beijing (about a 4½ hour flight) and attend that stimulating meeting.
There were several top Christian philosophers from the U.S. there, but it was Plantinga whom I most wanted to hear—and I was not disappointed in what I heard at the meetings and in the personal chat I had with him while walking across the spacious campus of Peking University, the premier university in China.
That academic meeting, which fruitfully focused on dialogue between the Christian philosophers from the U.S. and the Chinese philosophers who taught at Peking University and were atheists, was led by Plantinga. I was impressed by his brilliant mind, his respect for the Chinese scholars, and his deep and reasoned Christian faith.
Plantinga’s Prize
John Templeton was a financial investment whiz and a philanthropist. According to the Templeton Prize website (see here), Templeton (1912-2008) “started his Wall Street career in 1938 and went on to create some of the world's largest and most successful international investment funds.”
After becoming a wealthy man, in 1972 Templeton “established the world's largest annual award given to an individual, the Templeton Prize, which honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.”
The first Templeton Prize was awarded to Mother Teresa, and a wide variety of religious practitioners and academics have received the prestigious, and lucrative, prize in the succeeding years. (This year Plantinga received $1,400,000 as the recipient of the Templeton Prize.)
Some “liberals” have been critical of some choices for the Templeton Prize, such as Billy Graham in 1982 and especially Charles Colson in 1993 and Bill Bright in 1996. But most recipients have not been conservative Christians; for example, the Prize was awarded to the Dalai Lama in 2012 and to Desmond Tutu in 2013.
(For those of you who have the time and interest, I recommend opening the Templeton Prize website, here, and following the links to the various articles and videos found there.)

I am grateful to Alvin Plantinga for the significant contributions he has made to critical thinking as a Christian philosopher. His being chosen as this year’s recipient of the prestigious Templeton Prize accentuates the fact that Christians can, indeed, be deep, cogent thinkers. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Bible is Like a Rorschach Test

Long before I read Brian Zahnd’s new book Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God I had made a note to use the above title for a future blog article. Thus, I was surprised when I read this in BZ’s book: “Sometimes the Bible is like a Rorschach test: our interpretation of the text reveals more about ourselves than about God” (p. 14). Quite true!
Literal and Metaphorical Rorschach Tests
Rorschach inkblot #10
The story of the background and development of the Rorschach test is thoroughly told in a book by Damion Searls published earlier this year under the title The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing. (I have only scanned the book, but here is the link to Thinking Friend Clif Hostetler’s review of it.)  
Rorschach created the inkblots test for the purpose of psychological analysis and evaluation. But the popularity of those tests has resulted in their metaphorical use also.
In his book, Searls reports that in 1993 Hillary Clinton said to an Esquire reporter, “I’m a Rorschach test” (p. 263). And then in 2008 Barack Obama said to a New York Times reporter, with a somewhat different meaning, “I am like a Rorschach test” (p. 309).
Truly, as the Rorschach test amply illustrates, people look at the same thing, or same person, and come to widely different conclusions about the nature and significance of those things or persons.
That is true for the Bible also.
The Bible as a Rorschach Test
How people read and interpret the Bible varies greatly. For example, the Bible as seen by fundamentalist Christians is different in multifarious ways from how it is seen by those of us who are not fundamentalists.
The passages of the Bible a person chooses for evaluating current issues tells us a lot about that person. Their use of the Bible is, truly, like a Rorschach test.
For a case in point, consider Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. Last month (here) I quoted Jeffress saying that God has given Pres. Trump the authority to “take out” Kim Jong-un. That dangerous assertion is based on his selection and interpretation of “God’s Word” as found in Romans 13.
Then on Sept. 11, in commenting on the immigration issue and the “Dreamers,” Jeffress told Fox News (see here) that “God is not necessarily an open borders guy.”
According to the Dallas pastor, the Bible teaches that God has established borders and instituted the government to protect its citizens. Thus, he says, those Christians who emphasize compassion based on Gen. 1:27 are telling only one side of the story.
It seems quite clear than when Jeffress looks at the Bible, he sees a book that supports the current President of the U.S. and the bulk of the Republican Party. That doesn’t tell us much about the Bible, but it tells us a lot about Jeffress and the “evangelicals” who agree with him.
The Proper Criterion
In his book mentioned above, Zahnd emphasizes that all of the Bible should be read from the viewpoint of Jesus. That is, the Old Testament, the letters of Paul, and all other parts of the Bible must be interpreted in light of the life and teachings of Jesus.
Baptists used to have it right: the 1963 version of the Baptist Faith and Message clearly and importantly stated: “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.”
Thus, when Jesus is the basis for interpreting the Bible, we find a perspective considerably different from that of Pastor Jeffress.
What does your interpretation of the Bible say about you?


Friday, September 15, 2017

Problems with Philanthropy

To the Stars through Difficulties is a new book by Kansas author Romalyn Tilghman. I recently read Romalyn’s delightful novel and enjoyed hearing her discuss it on Wednesday afternoon.
The Case of Andrew Carnegie
The Carnegie libraries of Kansas are the backdrop of Tilghman’s novel. Early on she informs her readers that industrialist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) built 59 libraries in Kansas in the early 1900s and that “he gave the country 1689 libraries that served thirty-five million people by 1919.”
That is impressive philanthropy! And it is only part of what Carnegie did with his great wealth.
But on the same page Romalyn acknowledges Carnegie’s “despicable treatment of mineworkers, including the murder of seven men in his attempt to break up the union,” and reports that some Kansas communities “refused to take his tainted money even for the promise of a library.“
She then rightly states that Carnegie was “both a philanthropist and robber baron (p. 7).”  
The Case of John D. Rockefeller
Andrew Carnegie vied with John D. Rockefeller as being the richest man in the world. Like Carnegie, Rockefeller (1839-1937) also started life in rather humble circumstances but through hard work, ingenuity, and shrewd business deals he also became a man of great wealth.
From boyhood and throughout his lifetime Rockefeller was a faithful Baptist church member—and a tither. From his early 50s, he deliberately began his philanthropic activities.
A chapter in Ellen Greenman Coffey’s small book John D. Rockefeller is titled “The Pious Robber Baron.”
In a later chapter, “An Investment in Good Works,” Greenman tells of Rockefeller’s increasing involvement in giving his money away under the tutelage of Frederick T. Gates, a young Baptist minister whom he employed.
Among the many projects Gates (1853-1929) led his boss to support, one of the best-known is the Rockefeller Foundation, established in 1913 after years of planning.
Rockefeller’s philanthropic work, however, was partly in response to the negative publicity he had suffered from Ida Tarbell’s 1904 book, The History of the Standard Oil Company, in which she depicted Rockefeller as “miserly, money-grabbing, and viciously effective at monopolizing the oil trade.”  
The Case of Joan Kroc
Recently, June and I watched “Founder,” the 2016 movie about Ray Kroc, the man who built McDonald’s restaurants into the wealthiest fast food chain in the world—but not without the use of devious means.
Joan was Krok’s third wife. They married in 1969, when Ray was 67 years old, and she inherited his wealth after his death in 1984. Their story is told in Lisa Napoli’s 2016 book titled Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald’s Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away.
Joan’s $1.5 billion gift to Salvation Army is said to be the largest philanthropic gift ever made by an individual in the U.S. The bulk of that gift has been used to build and maintain 26 Kroc Centers throughout the country.  
Problems with Philanthropy
Very summarily, here are some problems with philanthropy, clearly seen in that of the three people mentioned above:
(1) There is a problem of how the wealth of the philanthropists is gained, particularly when it is by exploitation of workers and shrewd (bordering on illegal) business practices.
(2) Then, most philanthropists tend to aggrandize themselves in their charitable giving. Everyone knows of Carnegie libraries, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Kroc centers.
(3) And then consider these insightful words by William Jewett Tucker, a contemporary critic of Carnegie:
I can conceive of no greater mistake, more disastrous in the end to religion if not to society, than of trying to make charity do the work of justice.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Are Anti-Gay People/Groups Hateful and Mean?

It is rather astounding that the straight/gay issue seems to be the most debated, most divisive, and most destructive point of contention among Christians and Christian organizations today. Is there any way to lessen the discord caused by this contentious wedge issue?
Opposition to the Nashville Statement
The gay/straight problem was thrust into the spotlight anew by the issuance of the “Nashville Statement” on Aug. 29. That statement by conservative Christian evangelicals vigorously upheld traditional marriage and rejected same-sex marriage. (Here is a link to the complete document.)
As could have easily been predicted, there was prompt opposition to the Nashville Statement, including derogatory comments about the signers, many of whom are Southern Baptist pastors and leaders of SB institutions and agencies.
Soon there were public statements from the other side, such as the one by the noted pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. On Aug. 30, she issued the “Denver Statement” which counters point by point the articles of the Nashville Statement.
Bolz-Weber’s statement does not denigrate or malign the signers of the Nashville Statement; she merely contradicts their arguments one by one.
But other opponents have called the signers of the Nashville Statement mean and hateful (homophobic).
Some of the signers may, in fact, be mean and hateful—but are they all and should they all be disdained in that disrespectful way?
Opposition to the SPLC
Perhaps emboldened by the Nashville Statement—or challenged by the opposition to it—on Sept. 6 forty-seven conservative evangelicals sent a letter (see here) asking the mainstream media not to cite data on hate groups compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). 
In part, they wrote:
The SPLC is a discredited, left-wing, political activist organization that seeks to silence its political opponents with a “hate group” label of its own invention and application that is not only false and defamatory, but that also endangers the lives of those targeted with it.
That is a rather defamatory statement against a group whose founder, Morris Dees, has been repeatedly targeted by his opponents.
Moreover, if SPLC identifies some anti-gay Christian organization as hate groups, it is because they have seen how some people have “acted out” against LGBTQ people on the basis of the stated position of those groups.
Opposition to the Opposition
Here is my stance on this prickly issue:
(1) I strongly disagree with the Nashville Statement and basically agree with the Denver Statement. Further, June and I have been supporters of the SPLC since we came back to the U.S. to live in 2004; we have sent monetary gifts to them every year since then and will continue to do so.
(2) Still, it is most likely that those who signed the Nashville Statement did so not because of malice but because of their religious convictions—and those convictions are held primarily because of the way they interpret the Bible.
(3) Admittedly, the anti-gay sentiments of the signers of the Nashville Statement can be, and have been, shamefully used to treat gay people in mean and hateful ways. But for most of the signers that is not their intention; many of them probably seek to be loving without being affirming.
(4) Since many gays and lesbians have been caused to suffer as a result of the teaching and/or preaching of conservative evangelical organizations and churches, the SPLC has every right to oppose the hateful activities which have been spurred by those groups.
(5) Judging others, calling them names, and ridiculing their beliefs only creates greater division, larger wedges, and more animosity. Thus, it is imperative for us Christians to work on building bridges between people with conflicting convictions and incompatible interpretations of the Bible.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Are Sinners Really in the Hands of a Loving God?

Brian Zahnd, founding pastor of the Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Mo., is a man I consider a new friend. I first met Brian on June 25 when I went to St. Joe to hear him preach, and then I drove back to St. Joe to have lunch with him on July 13. I have found him to be a warm and genuine person, an engaging preacher, and an author of engrossing books.
A Bit about BZ
June and I started referring to Brian Zahnd as BZ, partly because we know other Zahnds and other Brians. I could take this whole article just to introduce him, but I will make this part brief.
BZ was born in 1959 in Savannah, Mo., the oldest son of an attorney who later became a county judge. Glen Zahnd was also a leading member of the First Baptist Church in that county seat town.
When BZ was a high school student, he became a “Jesus freak,” and joined other young Christians who practiced their faith in “The Catacombs” in St. Joe. From that group he started the Word of Life Church when he was 22—and he is still the pastor of that congregation, which became and still is a megachurch.
Culminating in 2004, BZ experienced a rather drastic theological change. He turned from what he refers to as “cotton candy Christianity” to what he believes is a more authentic Christian faith based upon a fuller understanding of Jesus Christ.
Because of that change of emphasis, BZ told me that he lost about a thousand members from his church that had had a weekly attendance of about 4,000.
A Bit about BZ’s Books
BZ’s book Water to Wine: Some of My Story (2016) tells about his “conversion” in 2004. It was the first of his books that I read, and I found it fascinating.
Then I read BZ’s 2014 book titled A Farewell to Mars and really enjoyed it also. His views on war and peace are very much in harmony with that of the Mennonites—and he now often speaks at Anabaptist conferences, although his church is not affiliated with any denomination.
BZ’s newest book was released on August 15, and my reading of it prompted this article, for its title is Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.
The Point of BZ’s Newest Book
When he was a young charismatic/evangelical preacher, BZ made regular use of Johnathan Edwards’s (in)famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” But his theological change in 2004 led BZ to reject what he came to call the “monster God” and to affirm God as the God of love for all people at all times.  
BZ’s emphasis on the unchangeable love of God led him to reject the doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. (You can review here my recent article about PSA, which ended with reference to Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal son.)
The cover illustration of BZ’s new book is of the prodigal son being welcomed by his loving father. That depiction of God as always loving, always forgiving, always accepting is the key to an adequate understanding of God.
Further, BZ’s emphasizes that “hell” is the terrible conditions some people experience in this life rather than as some future state of eternal punishment decreed by God. To BZ, no one at any time who wishes to experience the loving acceptance of God is ever rejected or caused to suffer punishment by God for any reason.
BZ’s book may seem odious to some conservative evangelical Christians, but it boldly, and correctly, promulgates the “scandalous truth” that sinners really are in the hands of a loving God.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Was DJT Right about “Both Sides”?

The President has been much criticized for his comments about “both sides” in his remarks about this month’s tragedy in Charlottesville. But let’s think a bit about his assertion that there were “some very fine people on both sides.” Was he perhaps right about that?
A Timely Quote
When I was still in college I remember hearing, and quoting, the following statement by American historian J.T. Adams (1878-1949), although it has also been attributed to various people, including Robert Louis Stevenson:  
I thought that statement was true in the 1950s—and I still do.
Adams’s pithy words are important for us especially in our relationships with the people closest to us—at home, school, church, and community.
But are they also applicable to all people, perhaps without exception.
A Time to Reflect
We are all beset by the tendency to condemn those we disagree with—and we often do that from a position of moral superiority or self-righteousness. Further, the stronger a fundamentalist (on the right or the left) one is, the stronger their certainty becomes.
Consider just one example from the far right. “The Wilkow Majority” is a regular program on the Patriot channel of Sirius XM satellite radio. It has been hosted by Andrew Wilkow since 2006.
At the end of each segment of his provocative program, Wilkow (b. 1972) proclaims, “We’re right! They’re wrong! End of story!”
What arrogance!
But, to be fair, there are some on the political/theological left who are similarly arrogant, even though they might not express that arrogance so blatantly.
Regardless of our theological or political position on issues, each of us needs to take time to reflect upon our own culpability. It is important to acknowledge the bad we find within ourselves as well as upon the good we see in others—even in those with whom we strongly disagree.
A Time to Resist
So DJT was probably right when he said that there were “some very fine people on both sides.” That was probably true in Charlottesville earlier this month as well as in the Civil War—and also in the Second World War.
General Robert E. Lee was a good and honorable man in many ways—but so were many of the men who fought for Germany or for Japan in WWII. Lee was not a demon, and neither were most of the Germans and Japanese who fought against the Allies.
There is good in the worst of us and bad in the best of us. But that certainly doesn’t mean that good people don’t sometimes do bad things, terribly bad things.
That was certainly the case with Lee, who was the leading general of the Confederate States Army that killed over 400,000 Union soldiers.
Those killed on both sides may have been Americans, but some were citizens of the United States of America and others had become citizens of the Confederate States of America—an alt-nation with its own constitution and president.
The CSA fought against and sought to defeat the USA as much as the Germans and Japanese did in the 1940s.
The basic problem is what people do, not whether or not they are “good people.” Whenever people, good or not, do bad things, they need to be opposed. Thus, there was ample reason for people, good and bad, to fight against Lee and his soldiers during the Civil War.
Accordingly, even if there were some “very fine people” among the alt-right white supremacists and KKK members who marched in Charlottesville, there was/is ample reason to resist them resolutely and to denounce them soundly for fanning the flames of racism.


Friday, August 25, 2017

Monumental Decisions

A 121-year-old Confederate monument came down. This Kentucky town put it back up.” That was the title of the top story on the front page of the Aug. 21 Washington Post. I read that article with great interest, for I used to live near that Kentucky town.
Controversy over Confederate Monuments
The violent incidents in Charlottesville, Vir., on Aug. 11-12 at the Unite the Right rally have greatly heightened the debate concerning Confederate monuments and statues in the U.S.
That rally, as most of you know, was held in opposition to the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. It was erected in 1924 in a Charlottesville city park, which was subsequently named Lee Park.
In the first week of June this year, Lee Park’s name was changed to Emancipation Park. The rally in Charlottesville was in protest against the announced plan to remove the statue of Lee from the park.
The drama in that Virginia city is linked to the strong movement across the U.S. to remove Confederate flags, statues, and monuments from public places. That movement gained considerable strength following the tragic June 2015 shooting in the African-American church in Charleston, S.C.
Moving the Louisville Monument
The Confederate Monument in Louisville was a 70-foot-tall monument that was erected in 1895 on the campus of the University of Louisville. It was designed to commemorate the sacrifice of Confederate veterans who died in the Civil War.
During the last two months of 2016, the Louisville monument was moved to Brandenburg, Ky., an Ohio River town about 45 miles west of Louisville. Some 400 people attended the rededication ceremony, held on Memorial Day this year.
Brandenburg is the seat of Meade County, a small county of just over 28,000 people, predominantly white. Slightly over 4% were African-American according to the 2010 census. Meade Co. is also Trump country: nearly 71% voted for him in 2016.
The Monument at Brandenburg
From 1959 to 1963 June and I, along with our small children, lived in Ekron, a very small town less than seven miles from Brandenburg. We fairly often had picnics on the bank of the Ohio River, not far from where the Confederate monument is now located.
That was long before the bridge was built across the river, which you can see in the lower right corner of the following picture of the relocated monument. 
Debra Masterson, an assistant at the Meade County Chamber of Commerce, was one who worked to get the monument moved to Brandenburg. When her “boss” began to express misgivings, Masterson said. “You’re thinking, ‘What if people are talking about Brandenburg as KKK, as racists?’ Well, I don’t know any racists!”
Well, I don’t know much about Meade County now and have little remaining contact with the dear people we were so close to 55 years ago. But I know there were racists in Meade County, and in Ekron Baptist Church of which I was pastor, back then.
In another article (see here) I have given specific examples regarding the racism I experienced there. Suffice it to say here that while the schools were integrated then, there was strong de facto segregation in the local communities and sometimes expressions overt racism, perhaps especially in the churches.
States, cities, schools, etc. now have monumental decisions to make about what to do with existing Confederate monuments and memorials of all sorts. 
Moving such monuments/statues from cities with a sizeable percentage of African-Americans (such as Louisville) to predominantly white towns (such as Brandenburg) is probably not a helpful solution to the problem.
Maybe the time has come just to make decisions that will rid our nation of monuments honoring the racism of the past.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Can the Korean Peninsula be United Again?

Last Tuesday marked the 72nd anniversary of the end of the Pacific. That same day, August 15, 1945, has been celebrated ever since by both South Korea and North Korea as Liberation Day. The two Koreas, however, have long been divided. Can they ever be united again?
The Liberation of Korea
The Korean Peninsula was basically under Japanese rule from 1905 until the end of the Pacific War. The Russo-Japanese War (1904–05) was fought between the Russian Empire and the Empire of Japan over rival imperial ambitions in Manchuria and Korea. One spinoff of Japan’s victory in that war was the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905, which made Korea a protectorate of Imperial Japan.
Then with the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910, Japan formally annexed Korea and the latter was completely under Japan’s control until August 1945. With Japan’s defeat, Korea was finally freed from Japanese rule.
It is not surprising that August 15 is celebrated as Liberation Day in what soon became two Koreas.
The Division of Korea
Provisional military governments were set up in Korea after the peninsula’s liberation from Japan. Korea north of the 38th parallel fell under Russian control, the U.S. had command of Korea south of that line of demarcation.
Since no agreement could be reached on establishing a unified government, two nations emerged. After the May 1948 elections in the south, on August 15 the Republic of Korea formally took over power from the U.S. military, with Syngman Rhee as the first president.
In September 1948, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was established in the north. Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of the current “supreme leader” of North Korea, became premier. 
The Reunification of Korea?
Kim Il-sung began the Korean War in 1950 in an attempt to reunify the entire peninsula—and we know how that turned out. An armistice was signed in July 1953 but no peace treaty was ever signed—so the two Koreas are technically still at war.
Among Koreans, perhaps especially among Korean Christians, there has long been a dream for the reunification of the two countries. This past Sunday (Aug. 13) the World Council of Churches was joined by the World Evangelical Alliance in a “Sunday of Prayer for the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula.”
Fervent prayers for reunification were very prevalent twenty years ago. I remember being in Korea in 1997, at a time when there were strong prayers for, and the hope of, reunification in the “Jubilee Year,” the fiftieth year after the division of 1948.
Sadly, such unification seems less likely now than it did twenty years ago.
Kim Jong-un would doubtlessly agree to unification if he were allowed to be the head of the unified country. But there is no way South Korea would accept Kim’s remaining in power over all of Korea.
Similarly, there is no way Kim would give up power in order for there to be a unified Korea.
So, no, it doesn’t seem that the unification of Korea is possible short of a regime change in North Korea—but more than anything else the fear of such an attempt is fueling Kim’s frantic attempt to develop nuclear weapons.
Kim’s fear of being attacked is likely far greater than most fears in this country of being attacked by North Korea.
The U.S. strategy toward North Korea should focus on containment, on negotiation, as well on financial and technical aid for producing more food and services for the North Korean people—anything but “fire and fury.”


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

One War Ended 72 Years Ago; Is Another War about to Start?

It was 72 years ago today (on Aug. 15, 1945) that the Japanese Emperor made the announcement that brought World War II to an end. Two years ago (see this link) I wrote about that (and a few other matters) in an article titled “The Significance of August 15.” But now the looming question is this: is another war in East Asia about to begin?
The President’s Frightening Statement
Just a week ago (on Aug. 8) DJT publicly declared that if North Korea makes any more threats to the United States, “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
And then as if once wasn’t enough, he reiterated, “He [Kim Jong-un] has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said, they will be met with fire and fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
The next day, NoKo (as some people are now calling North Korea) announced that (non-nuclear) missiles may be fired to within 18 to 25 miles from Guam by this week (mid-August).
Then on Aug. 10 DJT told reporters, “If anything, maybe that statement [about "fire and fury"] wasn’t tough enough."
Frightening words from the head of the nation with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal!
The President’s fear-provoking statement was made two days after Hiroshima Day and the day before Nagasaki Day, the somber days on which the death and destruction caused by the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 is remembered.
So what does DJT possibly mean by threatening “fire and fury . . . the likes of which this world has never seen before”?
Even before DJT’s Aug. 8 statement, the Aug. 5-11 issue of The Economist had this provocative image on its cover: 
The Religious Support for War
On August 8, the same day DJT made his inflammatory statement, Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Dallas, made this supportive statement to the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).
Jeffress said (in part): “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un.”
This prominent pastor went on to assert, “When President Trump draws a red line, he will not erase it, move it, or back away from it. Thank God for a President who is serious about protecting our country.”
 (Click here for the full statement Jeffress made to CBN’s “The Brody File.”)
It can be safely assumed that a large percentage of the evangelical Christians who voted for DJT agree with Jeffress—although, thankfully, some do not (for example, see here).
The Religious Opposition to War
In stark contrast, the World Council of Churches (WCC; see the third paragraph of this 8/9 statement) along with many other moderate/liberal church groups and individual Christians came out in strong opposition to the President’s statement.
While Jeffress based his support of DJT’s bellicosity on Romans 13, the WCC (in another statement) stressed Romans 14:10: “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
Then two days ago Fox News published “North Korea nuclear acceleration prompts church intervention,” an article largely about the Catholic Church's opposition to war with North Korea.
Individual Christian leaders have also made strong statements in opposition to the Jeffress’s reckless rhetoric. Here is just one example, an Aug. 8 tweet by UCC minister and university chaplain Chuck Currie:
You promote a dangerous theology of war that goes against Prince of Peace who preached just peace. I see nothing Christian in your remarks.
Truly, on this commemorative day marking the end of WWII, let us staunchly oppose war and war talk, actively pursuing what makes for peace.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Weird Experience

Yesterday, August 9, was the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. I remember well being in Nagasaki and at the ceremony marking the 37th anniversary of that tragic event. That was just five days after I—and June and our two younger children—had been through a weird experience.
The Return Home to Japan
Our family’s third missionary furlough was in 1981-82. When we left Missouri to return to our home in Japan on July 17, we said goodbye to our two grown children and made the trip back to Fukuoka City with our daughter Karen (12) and son Ken (10).
Before having time to get settled back into our mission residence, we left for the annual meeting of the Japan Baptist Mission at the retreat center south of Mt. Fuji. We got back home on August 2 and were still trying to get our house back in order in the days following.
On August 4, I had a telephone call from a former student whom I knew fairly well. He had audited one of my classes at the seminary and had even been in our home for a Christmas party for students.
M.-san called because he wanted to come by for a visit. Even though we were not ready for visitors, he was rather insistent and I reluctantly agreed for him to come that evening.  
The Stabbing
When M.-san arrived, he was carrying a bag and a baseball bat. After just a few minutes, I realized that he was clearly mentally “off.” I soon told him I needed to end the visit and said I would drive him to the nearby train station so he could go home. Then I intended to contact his mother and urge her to get her son medical help.
M.-san then asked me to pray for him—as he had done the last time I had seen him. Just before we had left for the States in 1981, I happened to meet M.-san walking across the campus at Seinan Gakuin University, and he asked me to pray for him—which I did then and there.
This time, because of his mental state—and because of the baseball bat!—I prayed with my eyes open, focused on him.
After the prayer I went back to the bedroom to get some socks. When I came back, he was standing by the front door, but he didn’t have his bag or bat with him. I looked back and saw his bag in the room where we had talked. When I turned back toward him, he struck me on the chin with a long knife.
I quickly grabbed his wrist and took the knife from him—and he began to apologize repeatedly. I had felt little pain but the floor was sprinkled with blood, so I told M.-san to leave because I had to go to the emergency room. I didn’t know how badly I had been injured.
As it turned out, the knife blow, which had doubtlessly been intended for my throat, had glanced off the bottom of my chin and cut me there and on the top of my chest. A few stitches was all that was needed. June credited my beard with saving my life, as it largely concealed his target.  
The Aftermath
The next day, M.-san’s mother came to our home with a huge bouquet of flowers and apologized profusely for what her son had done. We felt so sorry for her.
Then on Aug. 7, as previously planned, we left for a short trip to Nagasaki, staying with missionary friends there. We went to the memorial ceremony on the morning of Aug. 9, mourning with the large crowd gathered in sadness because of the death and devastation caused by the atomic bombing of that city on that date in 1945.
In the meantime, M.-san had been found by the police and taken into custody. He was later incarcerated in a mental prison facility—and died there (probably at his own hand) the following year.
My experience is only one example of a huge problem: not being able to detect and to treat mental illness before weird, or truly tragic, events occur.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Once Again: Were the A-Bombs Necessary?

Largely because of the response received to my May article about Harry Truman (see here), I decided to consider once again the question repeatedly raised since the first atomic bombs were dropped: were they necessary for ending the war with Japan?
The Majority Opinion
Undoubtedly, most USAmericans since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9, 1945, have firmly believed that they were justified.
Moreover, most people in the U.S. seem to think that the bombs were not only necessary but that they also were “good” because of the lives saved.
Thinking Friend Tom Lamkin in North Carolina wrote: “A member of one of my churches had a father on the troop ships on the way to Japan for the invasion when the bombs were dropped. They were called back when news came Japan had surrendered. That was one family glad to see the bombs fall.”
Similarly, local Thinking Friend Joe Barbour said, “I dislike war but we live in a world where anything goes it seems. So as I think of the loss of life that those bombings of the Japanese at home experienced, they saved far more lives than were lost. It had to be a hard decision but [Truman] made it and ended a terrible war.”
These views are in agreement with what ethicist Joseph Fletcher propounds in his book Situation Ethics (1966). He writes about the “agapeic calculus,” which seeks “the greatest amount of neighbor welfare for the largest number of neighbors possible.” (p. 95).
While it is only a “test case” with no solution explicitly given, Fletcher ends his book with a brief summary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—with the suggestion, I think, that the agapeic calculus means that the dropping of the atomic bombs should be considered right or “good.”
While making no reference to Fletcher, historian Michael Bess agrees with what I call the majority opinion. Chapter Ten in Bess’s excellent book Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II (2006) is “The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb.”
Bess asserts that “it is a fair conclusion that the bomb’s use probably saved an enormous number of lives—far more Japanese than Allied” (pp. 230-1). 
An Opposing View
One of many places where an opposing view can be found is in the television mini-series “The Untold History of the United States” (2012) and the accompanying book by that title written by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick.
The fourth chapter of Stone & Kuznick’s book is titled “The Bomb: The Tragedy of a Small Man.” They are probably much too critical of Truman, but they may be right in their clear implication that the bombs were most likely not necessary—especially if better decisions had been made earlier.
For example, in all probability the bombs would not have been necessary if Truman had taken Herbert Hoover’s advice. In Chapter 76 of Freedom Betrayed, the 2011 book that contains Hoover’s writings about WWII and afterward, Hoover tells how in May 1945 he advised Truman to drop the demand for unconditional surrender and to assure Japan that the Emperor could remain as the spiritual head of the nation.
If Truman had taken Hoover’s suggestion soon thereafter, Japan would most likely have surrendered much before August 6, 1945.
What about Now?
The historical events of 1945 cannot be changed, of course. But we humans should be able to learn from history.
One essential thing that we need to learn the most is that there is always a better alternative than war—and certainly there is always a better alternative than using nuclear weapons.


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Congratulations, Liberia!

The Republic of Liberia has just celebrated its 170th Independence Day, having become an independent nation on July 26, 1847.
The Early History of Liberia
The American Colonization Society (ACS) was established in 1816. Its purpose was to support the migration of freed slaves to the continent of Africa. There were abolitionists as well as plantation owners and other slaveholders who participated in the ACS and supported its goals.
The ACS was successful in the formation of the colony of Liberia in 1820-21 on the west coast of Africa. A settlement established in 1822 was two years later named Monrovia, after President Monroe. That settlement grew to become the largest city and the capital of the country.
From its beginning as an independent nation until 1980, the presidency of Liberia was held by Americo-Liberians, those who had formerly lived in the United States and the descendants of such people.
The first president of Liberia was Joseph Jenkins who had emigrated from Virginia to the young colony in 1829.  
Liberia's Coat of Arms
William Tolbert, Jr., of Liberia
In 1965, June and I had the opportunity to attend the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) World Congress, which met in Miami Beach, Florida. Among the other outstanding Baptist leaders we heard, and met, that week, was William R. Tolbert, Jr., the Vice-President of Liberia.
We were happy when Tolbert, who was also an ordained minister, was elected as the new BWA president – the first African to be elected to this position in that worldwide alliance of Baptists that was constituted in 1905.
Liberian President William Tubman died after 27 years in office, so in 1971, the year after his five-year term as president of the BWA ended, Tolbert became the new president of Liberia.
Because of economic problems, which among other things led to violent demonstrations known as the rice riots, Samuel Doe led a coup in 1980, murdering President Tolbert (and others) and seizing control of the country.
Tolbert continues to be highly respected in Liberia, though. New Liberian currency was issued in 2016, and Tolbert’s picture is still on the $100 bill.
Recent History of Liberia
The years from 1980 to 2003 was a dark period in the history of Liberia. Doe, who led the coup d’état was elected president in 1985, one year after his regime allowed return of political parties.
But then there was civil war in the country from 1989 to 2003. According to BBC, up to 250,000 were killed, while thousands more were mutilated and raped, often by armies of drugged child soldiers led by ruthless warlords.
Two years after the civil war ended, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected the 24th president of Liberia in 2005. She was the first woman to be elected as the head of state of an African country. Her second six-year term will soon end, so elections for a new president will take place in October. 
While certainly not without lingering problems, conditions in Liberia seem to have improved greatly under President Sirleaf (b. 1938), who was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
Joseph Boakai, who is a deacon in a Baptist church, is the current Vice-President. He is one of several candidates in this fall’s presidential election.
Especially since Liberia was established by ethnic Africans who had lived in the U.S., many of us USAmericans join in congratulating Liberia for its 170 years of independence and in praying for an increasingly prosperous and peaceful future.
*****
Liberian-born Helene Cooper, who is now a Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times, is the author of Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2017), a sparkling biography of Liberian President Sirleaf.