Friday, August 22, 2008

 

Billions for War, Millions for Peace

The Peace Corps Takes Back Seat to the War in Iraq

The Washington Post reported today (August 22, 2008, page A15, Christopher Lee) that the U.S. Peace Corps "is preparing to cut back on new volunteers and consolidate recruiting offices as it pares other costs amid an increasingly tight budget." Much of an anticipated shortfall in funds is "attributed to the declining value of the dollar overseas and the rising cost of energy and other commodities," which inflate overseas expenses.

$120 billion is a conservative estimate of America's current annual costs for its war in Iraq. This is based on current spending for direct costs, but excludes additional countless billions in the long-haul for veterans benefits, payments to allies, and interest on Iraq war-related debt.

On the other hand, the Peace Corps' current annual budget is only $330.8 million, notwithstanding bipartisan Congressional support.

America thus spends more for 25 hours of its military occupation of Iraq than it does for the worldwide operations of the Peace Corps for an entire year.

The people of the world, especially Americans, reap huge peace dividends from the work of the Peace Corps, but the peace dividends from our military campaign in Iraq are dubious at best.

The vast majority of the world’s population—and even a majority of Americans—long ago concluded that the peace dividends of America's misadventure in Iraq were illusory, in fact, hugely negative.

In his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush promised to double the number of Peace Corps volunteers by 2007, and he broke his promise. Obama promises to double the size of the Peace Corps by 2011, and we must ensure he keeps his promise.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

 

Georgia Quits Bush League of Nations in Iraq

John McCain—Just Like Bush, Except Not As Smart

[President Bush telephoned John McCain from the Olympics in Beijing on August 11, 2008. The following is an intercepted transcript of that conversation.]

Bush: John, what the heck’s going on? I heard the Russians invaded Georgia ... why isn’t the Georgia National Guard stopping them?

McCain: They can’t, they’re in Iraq.

Bush: Dang, that’s right. But, wait, I also heard Georgia was quitting my coalition in Iraq, you know, the Bush League of Nations. How can they do that? I’m the Decider.

McCain: Yah, it’s confusing. Just who do these Georgians think they are? And where are they exactly? It’s like they’re in "two places at once" … or is it, "no places at twice?"

Bush: Who gives a damn, you suck-up! Let’s focus on me! Boy, I feel real lucky the Olympics are in China and not in Atlanta … you know, like before. I’m pretty safe here with our Chinese bankers. But Georgia … God, my knees start knocking whenever I think of being stuck in Atlanta with the Russian troops getting closer and closer.

McCain: Maybe the Russians will stop attacking if we let them keep Georgia and give them South Carolina too.

Bush: Yah, that’s a good idea … [pause, with gears slowly grinding] … and it would raise the IQ of both America and Russia at the same time.

McCain: I don’t understand. Is that a joke?

Bush: I don’t know … but I heard Karl Rove say it in a cabinet meeting, and everyone laughed. So I laughed too.

McCain: OK, then let’s both laugh together now.

Bush and McBush: Hah, hah, hah!

NOTE: For a crisp perspective on the current conflict in Georgia—including history and context—see the AlterNet article: “Georgia Tries out the Bush War Doctrine, Loses Badly,” by Gary Brecher, of The eXile.

Monday, August 4, 2008

 

My Pastor’s View of Gay Marriage and the Recent California Supreme Court Decision—Part Two

This is the second part in a two-part series in response to the recent California Supreme Court decision striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. It is written by the Rev. Dr. Mark S. Bollwinkel, Senior Pastor of Los Altos United Methodist Church in Los Altos, California.

Public opinion polls suggest that the majority of Californians are willing to confer equal legal status to homosexual unions but want to reserve the word “marriage” for heterosexual couples alone.

A marriage license has always and only been a legal contract regulated by the state to ensure fiscal, property and lineage rights between two adults. The issuance of a marriage license by the state and county has never “sanctified” anything. Was the state of Nevada “sanctifying” Britney Spears’ 48-hour marriage to her boyfriend when it issued them a piece of paper?

Government, especially under a constitution separating church and state, has no business defining what is sacred about anything, let alone the relationship between two consenting adults. Political rhetoric insisting that the government must protect the “sanctity of marriage” by openly discriminating against the rights of a minority in our society is hypocritical and un-American.

Religious bodies should have the right to determine who and how they will celebrate a marriage, including my own United Methodist denomination, which prohibits the ordination of self-avowed gays and lesbians and their holy unions. But government has no business legislating discrimination against any law-abiding, consenting adult.

The heterosexual majority may find homosexual behavior and culture strange or repulsive. That is no basis for social discrimination. We’ve been down this road too many times before in America when religious and political bias has been used to justify the majority’s fears by restricting the rights of others – people of color and women in general know that reality all-too-well.

Half of the marriage licenses in our society will be revoked by divorce. We flock to be entertained by movies, TV, books and music that presume if not promote fornication and adultery. To suggest that gay marriage threatens the “sanctity” of heterosexual relationships is absurd.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are more than 800,000 same-gender households in our country. My wife and I will celebrate our 35th anniversary this year and have never once been threatened in the blessing of our relationship knowing that some families are just different from ours.

Many will argue that the natural ability of biological procreation between a man and a woman is what makes a heterosexual union “sacred,” as God is a life-affirming and life-generating spirit. Adoption, in vitro fertilization and surrogate pregnancies have allowed both heterosexual and nonheterosexual families to have children outside of God-given procreation. To reserve the sacred label for heterosexual families alone makes the procreation argument hollow indeed.

It is difficult at best to project 21st century ethics regarding sexual orientation onto Jesus or the leaders of the early church. They faced an entirely different worldview and context. However, Jesus’ vision of the “reign of God” in which all are included to experience God’s grace, forgiveness, peace and justice has inspired two millennia of the faithful and still does so today.

Jesus would be the first to honor sacred scripture and use it to encounter the living God. By teaching and example, he suggests biblical literalism and manipulation cuts the community off from the living word (Matthew 5:17-18, 21-45, 12:1-8, 15:10-20; Mark 2:23-28, 7:1-23; Luke 6:1-5; John 9; Acts 10:9-16; Galatians 5:1-12, 6:11-16).

To use the Bible as justification to discriminate against a minority within our society is wrong. God may be speaking a new word to us today as we once again wrestle with our prejudices regarding gay marriage.

I am one of a minority of United Methodist clergy who yearn for the day when gay, bisexual, transgender and lesbian people are fully included in the life of our church and honored as full citizens in their nation. I also understand that such a day is in the future due to the fear and prejudice our society has for these children of God. It took centuries for the church and society to change its policies toward slavery, people of color and the role and status of women – all social concerns in which we still have a long way to go. Upholding the California Supreme Court decision for marriage equality is an essential step toward that hopeful day.

 

My Pastor’s View of Gay Marriage and the Recent California Supreme Court Decision—Part One

This is the first part in a two-part series. It is written by the Rev. Dr. Mark S. Bollwinkel, Senior Pastor of Los Altos United Methodist Church in Los Altos, California.

In response to the recent California Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage, I offer the following in the hope of encouraging discussion on an important topic of the day. These thoughts do not reflect the policy of Los Altos United Methodist Church or the United Methodist denomination, only my point of view. And they are not the only positions that can be held by faithful people.

In a society that lives with a 50 percent divorce rate and commonly accepts cohabitation of adult children before their marriages and cohabitation between consenting seniors due to financial and tax constraints – all of which the Bible would consider “sinful” – it is ironic that the heterosexual majority condemns committed homosexual relationships in part because “the Bible says it’s a sin.”

Politicians, preachers and talk-show hosts are quick to justify discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folk while conveniently ignoring much of what else the Bible says about marriage. For example:
  • Marriage shall not impede a man’s right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. (2 Samuel 5:13; 1 Kings 11:3; 2 Chronicles 11:21)
  • A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the woman is not a virgin on the wedding day, she shall be executed. (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)
  • Marriage of a believer and a nonbeliever is forbidden. (Genesis 24:3, Numbers 25:1-9, Ezra 9:12, Nehemiah 10:30, 2 Corinthians 6:14)
  • Divorce is forbidden except in the case of adultery. (Deuteronomy 22:19, Matthew 19:1-9, Mark 10:9-12)
  • If a married man dies without children, his brother must marry the widow. If the brother refuses to marry the widow, or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Genesis 38:6-10, Deuteronomy 25:5-10)
  • Any sexual intercourse outside of marriage is considered “fornication,” and those practicing it are not getting into heaven. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Revelation 22:15)
Transposing ancient social norms to the 21st century is not just a matter of semantics. We often quote the Bible to justify our prejudices, picking and choosing verses to justify our points of view.

Many quote Leviticus 20:13, “male homosexual behavior is an abomination,” as culturally relevant for today while dismissing the second half of the very same verse, “and they shall be put to death,” as the quaint relic of an ancient past. Such interpretation is capricious and self-serving.

The challenge of faith is to use the Bible to hear the living word of God (John 1:1-14, 5:39-40), not simply as a gauntlet in a theological debate.

God did not stop speaking when the canon, in the Protestant tradition the 66 books authorized as Holy Scriptures, was formulated in the fourth century CE. If the Bible teaches us anything, it is that the spirit of God is on the move with God’s people throughout history and the changing conditions they face.

For example:
  • The Bible codifies and regulates slavery as an institution. Jesus says nothing directly against the institution, and the apostle Paul supports it outright. Yet in the 18th century Christians inspired by the living word heard a new message from God and sacrificed to begin a movement that ended slavery within 200 years.
  • The Bible relegates women to second-class citizenship at best, the status of property at worst. Yet in the 19th and 20th centuries Christians inspired by the living word heard a new message from God and fought for universal suffrage and equal rights for all genders.
God is speaking a new word for us today regarding those with sexual orientations different from the majority.

Whether the majority likes it or not, gays and lesbians serve in our military, teach our children and preach in our pulpits, often hiding their orientation to do so. Law-abiding, tax-paying and contributing citizens of our country should be afforded equal rights under the law regardless of their sexual orientation.

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