Jesus taught character, not rules

Today’s gospel reading offers multiple, important sermon topics: anger, violence, adultery, divorce and oath taking.[1] Instead of focusing on one topic, or all of them (think a two-hour sermon), I want to consider the passage as a whole, equipping you to interpret if for yourself.

Christians generally adopt a misguided approach toward this reading, mistakenly seeking to discover specific rules for governing human behavior from God. More broadly, Christians frequently characterize Jewish and Christian ethics as divine command ethics, God issuing a set of commands by which people should live.

An interpretation more faithful to Jesus begins by situating the text in its historical context. Jesus’ contemporaries regarded him as a rabbi, a teacher of Judaism, not as God incarnate issuing commands. What Christians regard as “law,” Jews then and now believe are instructions on how to live constantly mindful of God's loving, life-giving and liberating presence.

Imagine each of the four topic…

Why bother with church?

Recently, I attended a free, two-hour training session sponsored by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) on how to advocate for legislation with the Hawai’i State Legislature. Two aspects of the useful session particularly caught my attention.

First, the session used technology to connect people gather in four locations (one each on the islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Hawai’i). Sitting in the session, I wondered why more groups, such as the Episcopal Church, do not use similar technology to offer seminars in multiple locations. The technology is available for free. Gathering in multiple locations can boost attendance, as it did for the ACLU. Some evangelical churches already use this type of technology to allow congregations that meet in various locations to worship together and to hear the same sermon. Slow adoption of this technology has unintentionally both limited audience size and restricted groups to hearing speakers locally available.

Second, I was among the oldest five …

Americans get the political leaders they deserve

Government of, by and for the people – we call democracy – requires that people invest some effort and maybe a little money in elections. This does not happen in the U.S.

One reason the founding fathers established the electoral college was that they did not trust the average voter to exercise his franchise wisely. And that was after limiting voting in most places to white, property owning males.

Thankfully, the U.S. has extended the privilege of voting to all citizens 18 and older who register to vote. However, that extension of the franchise has not diminished voter laziness.

Voter laziness cedes electoral power to monied interests. This is nothing new. For example, in times and places where the rule of law was less strictly enforced, voters sold their vote to the highest bidder (remember machine politics in New York City, Chicago and elsewhere).

The two most important ways that a citizen can invest in democracy are (1) to become informed about the issues and candidates and then (…

Jesus, Lamb of God

The image of Jesus as the Lamb of God pervades Christianity. The lamb is a familiar symbol for Jesus, found not only in today's gospel[1] but also throughout the New Testament as well as in art and literature. The image of Jesus as the Lamb of God reinterprets the Jewish Passover narrative, which describes the angel of death in Egypt passing over Israelite houses marked with the blood of a lamb, killing only the Egyptian first born. Thus, we have the Agnus Dei, “O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us,”[2] a part of Christian liturgies since the early fourth century.[3]

Biblical images and metaphors are often complex and confusing. For example, Biblical authors describe Christians as God's sheep, although they sometimes refer to Jews as sheep, even in the New Testament.[4] New Testament authors similarly describe Jesus as both the Lamb of God and the shepherd, two conflicting images actually found in a single verse in the Revelation of John.[5]

Ethical reflections on the death of General Suleimani

The U.S. assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani raises ethical questions that have received short shrift in the outpouring of political concern about what Suleimani’s death may portend for peace in the Middle East.

First, assassination is unethical. There are no exceptions because assassination by another name is murder. Furthermore, the United States is not at war with Iran. If the U.S. decided that Maj. Gen. Suleimani was a terrorist, then the U.S. should have aimed to apprehend him to bring him to trial. Terrorism is a crime, not an act of war. For a fuller treatment of this point, read my book, Just Counterterrorism (available for free download by following this link), or my article, Just Counterterrorism, in the journal, Critical Studies on Terrorism.

Second, whether analyzed from a criminal justice perspective (strongly preferred) or a just war perspective, for any killing to be ethical, reasonable expectations of the killing’s effect must be to aid in moving toward a more…

Predictions for 2020

Last year, I made several predictions for 2019. Below, red annotations report the accuracy of each prediction.

·US stock markets will fall more than 20% from their 2018 highs. This prediction was off by about 45% - the markets rose rather than fell.
·President Trump’s enjoyment of chaos, erratic behavior, dishonesty, and narcissism will continue to destabilize US and world politics. Accurate.
·The loyalty of President Trump’s base will erode and his base diminish in size. Many of Trump’s policies harmed his base, as I forecast, but this did not erode the loyalty of his base.
·President Trump’s legal problems will escalate. The U.S. House of Representatives impeached Trump; he now awaits a Senate trial.
·Brexit will happen. The Conservatives did call an election. They scored an unexpected, overwhelming victory. Brexit is now inevitable.
·The US will tighten border security, especially with Mexico, but will not build a border wall along the southern border. Accurate.
·Trump, a man of few bedro…

Merry Christmas!