Neosporin for those who #FeelTheBern

Clinton_Sanders

Senator Sanders has been a consistent and powerful voice in American politics. He has forcefully fought for those who are often unable to fight for themselves. He has often given a strong voice to those without one. His willingness and ability to fight for such critical policy issues that are not popular with the establishment and status quo party elites, ideas that others are willing to compromise on rather than expand, is noteworthy. I truly believe that he has been the change in the world that he wants to see. He is man of conviction and principle, unwilling to seek his own assent at the expense of those less fortunate. I hope and pray that he never, under any circumstance, ever stops speaking truth to power. He is the patron saint of the poor and downtrodden. May God grant him many years. He is my ideal presidential candidate. I #FeeltheBern, quite strongly. Yet, unfortunately, I still cannot vote for him. I know too much about our current system. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not worried about whether or not Bernie can win a general election. There is a mathematical path, although increasingly improbable, to the nomination and general election victory. However, my trepidations are strictly focused upon the notion that he could and would win; a President-Elect Sanders gives me serious cause for concern, particularly as it pertains to the progressive cause and continuing the work that President Obama has advocated.

Even a cursory look at history, political science, or even math tells us a profound, undeniable truth about what politics will look like beginning in January 2017. The unproductivity and polarization within the 114th Congress has been intense and will continue into the 115th Congress. There is some evidence it will get slightly better, but it will not be enough to support a Bernie Sanders Administration. Do you remember the “Hope” and “Change” that the new President Barack Obama would bring in 2008 and during his presidency? There were a little over 500 promises to be exact. According to PolitiFact’s assessment, he broke his promises 22% of the time and compromised on 25% of his promises. Obama was able to deliver on only 45% of those promises. Obama was a liberal’s liberal in the Senate, slightly left of the party median. Most importantly, what he promised is significantly different politically from what Senator Sanders is currently promising. Do we think that that a President Sanders could do better on broken and compromised promises? Given the nature and political make-up of the incoming Congress, it is highly improbable.

Remember, because this is the most important aspect of the Presidency when it comes to domestic policy, Obama had a filibuster proof majority in the Senate and 255 Democrats in the House of Representatives when he took office. He helped to usher in some of the most consequential reforms and legislation in decades: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act as well as the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act. These pieces of legislation, and others, were lauded by the Democrat Party as the new era of liberalism, an incremental addition to the New Deal and the Great Society. And, yet, upon further inspection of these ‘liberal’ polices, we find that they are, in fact, watered down versions of progressivism, a slightly left of center neo-liberal justification of the realities of the private/public partnerships that Senator Sanders is fighting against. Even more importantly, however, is the fact that as a Senator, Barack Obama was able to compromise and work with other Senators to produce legislation. As President, the Congress (mostly the Democratic members) was willing to work with him. History, and political science research, reveals some inkling that this would happen as he was running for office. He won 100s of endorsements from those in Congress. In fact, one of the Senate’s most historical and influential members, Robert C. Byrd endorsed Obama for President, saying he was a “shining young statesman.” The impetus for his endorsement came from their similar policy positions regarding the War in Iraq, Byrd said. This is a far better mechanism of determining how effective presidents will be, as it pertains to policy and legislative accomplishment.

Currently, Bernie Sanders has 3 endorsements from the House of Representatives, wherein he served for 16 years, and 0 endorsements from the Senate, where he has spent the last 8 years. To put it in perspective, Hillary Clinton has 140 total endorsements. At this time, 40% of the Senate and 35% of the House of Representatives have endorsed her for President.

Senator Sanders is 0.326 points from where President Obama was while in the Senate, which is nearly twice as ‘liberal’ as the current president, wherein the Republican Party controls the current Senate. Importantly, the projections that the Senate and the House will remain in Republican control are noteworthy. The path to a Democratically controlled Congress is narrow; a filibuster proof one is nearly improbable. Just as concerning, there are data-backed assessments that Senator Sanders will continue to not produce the same enthusiastic turnout among African-Americans or Hispanic voters that Senator Obama did in 2008, which reinforces the notion that Bernie would not have the same political capital in Congress that Obama had in 2009. The results in the recent South Carolina Primary is nearly an irreversible application of Neosporin for those who #FeelTheBern.

Moreover, Senator Sanders cannot point to a single piece of legislation or major negotiated deal brokered by him during his time in the Senate. The one deal on veteran’s benefits he did make, which had bipartisan support, fell through because it ended up being too good of a bill with too many benefits. We have no indications that he would be able to compromise or work within the congressional context inherited in 2017. For instance, some of the policies he is proposing now consist of:

  • Free Public College Tuition
  • By the end of his 1st term in Office, not have the most prisoners in the world
  • Single Payer Healthcare System
  • A 3.5% Unemployment Rate
  • Paid Leave
  • More than Double the National Minimum Wage
  • A $1 Trillion Carbon Tax that redistributes the wealth back to the poor
  • A $1 Trillion Infrastructure Spending Bill

These policies, many of with which I wholeheartedly agree, are so far beyond the median voter’s preferences and what is politically feasible the current political system cannot take them seriously. This is to say nothing of the math errors that boasted the economic growth they would engender. Historical assessments, mathematical projections, and political science research shows us that despite how much we may want a revolution like Bernie advocates, unless the revolution extends to the far reaching political offices such as local prosecutors, state legislators, governors, and the U.S. Congress, electing Bernie Sanders to the Presidency will not and cannot produce a domestic policy change of the aforementioned magnitude, wherein the political structure of government is fundamentally altered. The math just does not support such a notion.

Senator Sanders seems to think that he can treat the Presidency as tantamount to a Green Lantern comic book hero figure, wherein he can will his way to policy change if he just tries hard enough. This is such a ludicrous supposition. Presidents do not always get policy results. Sometimes they are incredibly ineffective. They can, however, sometimes change the discussion of the policy agenda, but this is not always the case, according to the research. Presidents do, however, always attempt to set the agenda, as difficult as it is. Their success depends upon any number of factors. Senator Sanders could be effective in this measure of the Presidency, but it is not guaranteed. One thing we know, for absolute certainty, according the research, is that presidents cannot ‘will’ their way to anything with strength, sheer force, or the exertion by which they try. They need Congress, the public, and the media as well as context, business interests, and special interests to be successful in domestic policy.

Unfortunately, this is the nature of the system. I do not like it anymore than you do. There is a context in which each political actor must function. There are entrepreneurs that can sometimes change the system and broaden the context the policy discussion. It is this reality for which we should thank Bernie Sanders. His presence in the primary against Hillary Clinton has masterfully challenged the establishment. The debates, the primaries, and the caucuses have pulled Hillary further to the left of each policy position, sharpened her debate skills, and forced her to think about her candidacy as something other than a guaranteed win. All of which will serve her well in the necessity of keeping Trump, a bloviating ignoramus, from obtaining institutional power.

Yet, the system still seems broken for those below a certain income bracket. Our voices in the policy discussion are nearly silenced. Of course we are frustrated. Of course we want change. We see the process taking forever. We see the status quo remaining stronger than ever. We can clearly see our ideal candidate, historically on the fringes of politics, challenging the establishment within the party. Briefly, we let our hope and hearts get the better of us, we think we should throw our support behind him because his voice and arguments matter. We think he can change the entire system. I implore you to slow down, take a deep breath, and acknowledge that Senator Sanders cannot fix the problem on his own; he needs all of the actors in the system to change as well. Before you say you must vote your conscious, think about the fact that by doing so, you could be contributing to the dismantling of the progress made thus far.

Unless there is a massive movement that will completely alter the entire structure of our government in this one election, which is so unlikely, your conscious, moral vote is immoral. Arguably, one could make the assertion that the reason so many state legislatures and policies reflect the conservative, regressive, backward approach to life that some 18th Century agrarian philosophers had, is the very fact that Barack Obama was elected and ushered in healthcare reform. He was perceived as too progressive, looked too different from the ‘norm’. His policy proposals and accomplishments, whether true or not, were perceived as too far from the median. Republicans used these perceptions to mobilize voters, even though voter turn out was at its lowest, to make it harder for minorities to vote, to roll back much of the progress on a women’s right to choose, and to economically bankrupt public education. I would challenge you to ask yourself where were you in 2010 or 2014.

Now, imagine Senator Sanders, a Democratic Socialist, getting elected. What do you think the response will be when he proposes free college or a single payer health system or paid leave for poor, working minorities? If you really want to help the progressive movement, if you want policies that reflect your liberal ideology, choose the candidate that will incrementally get those policies for your children and their children. It is too late for us.

The real revolution is built upon compromise. Compromise is progressivism. Real policy change will only occur incrementally, over time. As adults we must compromise. Hillary Clinton is our compromise. Hillary Clinton is our most effective option. Let us all vote with our reason, logic, and minds, not our hearts, passions, and ideals. Idealism is for babies. Always getting what you want is for toddlers. Compromise is adulthood. So, for those of us that #FeeltheBern, I have to say, “Grow up”. Vote for the Establishment. Vote for Compromise. Vote for Hillary Clinton.

I’m with Her!

A Trump Administration: “It’s Not Personal, It’s Just Business”

* Photo by Gage Skidmore

“The Donald” has finally announced this candidacy for the Presidency. He is one of nearly 20 candidates vying for the Republican nomination. As a political scientist, I am aware that it is nearly impossible for him to win his party’s nomination, let alone the general election. The fundamentals of presidential elections are fairly decent at predicting presidential election outcomes, sometimes before the election even begins, especially when you factor aggregating polls into the forecasting model. You can see the research here, here, here, here, and here. Having said that, I think I can say fairly confidently that he will not be the president beginning in 2017. Even though a Suffolk University poll has him in second place in New Hampshire, it is one poll in one state. At most, it might prolong the inevitable demise of his campaign. And yet, there is no way to fully predict elections due to the vicissitudes of politics and pertinent events that may transpire in the future.

So, I can’t help but wonder, what if he actually won? What would a Trump Administration look like? Here are few, quick thoughts about what it might look like.

1. He was at the forefront of the absurd attempt to delegitimize President Obama’s citizenship. How would that play out after he assumed the presidency after Obama? Would he not follow/honor what Obama had done as president?

2. He has been known to say, “I have made the tough decisions, always with an eye toward the bottom line. Perhaps it’s time America was run like a business.” Trump has repeatedly skirted responsibility for his terrible and risky decision-making in many business deals, currently owning 4 corporate bankruptcies. Yet, he has mostly been immune from the consequences of those decisions because of bankruptcy law. Imagine if he had the protections of Executive Privilege to delay the necessary elements of transparency. He wouldn’t be the first.

Moreover, while in office, he would have immunity from any decision he made. That is a legal protection for the president. Remember when Nixon said, “When the President does it, it’s not illegal”? That is essentially true, according to the Supreme Court. Of course there is some debate about what prosecution would/could happen after he left office. However, one just needs to think about how President Bush’s actions pertaining to the detention and torture ‘enhanced interrogations’ of enemy combatants have been perceived at home and abroad. Some legitimate organizations such as the ACLU want to launch an in-depth investigation into his alleged war crimes and President Obama has simply said, “We need to look forward, as opposed to backwards.” Prosecuting a president after leaving office would be incredibly difficult. Even if prosecution were to take place, it is highly likely that the next president would simply pardon him, as Ford did for Nixon.

3. To get a better picture of how Trump might handle some if the more delicate aspects of the presidency such as the art of diplomatic relations, we can look at how he has historically handled some tense and public disagreements with other strong personalities in the past. This is the only measure we have because he has not held any public office.

  • Rosie O’Donnell: She said a few things about his personal life and his business life that he did not like. He not only threatened to sue her and take money from her, but he called her a “loser” and a “big, fat pig” on multiple occasions.
  • Martha Stewart: In an open letter, he wrote a harsh criticism of her work. It is not the same caliber as his bullying of Rosie O’Donnell, but it was far from diplomatic.
  • Mark Cuban: Trump has few insults and personal attacks for Cuban on Twitter. The heated exchange can be found here.
  • Barack Obama: More importantly, it is well documented on twitter how he has talked to and about President Obama (Birth Certificate, College Transcript, Mental Health). Is this how he would try to negotiate with other Heads of State? Would he dangle Foreign Aid to other countries as a condition.

I can’t help but wonder what type of “Rhetorical Presidency” he would have. What would such statements do to international relations with Russia, China, Iran, etc.?

4. His historical record on race and racial tensions is concerning. How would he handle the public problems and issues associate with race in public policy?

  • In 1973, he was sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination for not renting to African Americans.
  • He has repeatedly claimed that the most of the crime committed is by “Blacks and Hispanics”.

Would his approach to race and crime have a significant impact on the policy problems that we face today in incarceration and health care?

5. Univision media did something that Trump did not like and he responded by banning all employees from visiting his hotel in Miami. Could we see this as a foreshadowing of how he would handle the media’s criticism of his presidency? After negative articles or the major networks not giving him the time he wanted to speak to the nation, would he then ban said media outlets from the White House? NBC has now cut ties with him. Are they next?

6. Trump has in/famously said, “I don’t have to be politically correct. I don’t have to be a nice person. Like I watch some of these weak-kneed politicians, it’s disgusting. I don’t have to be that way.”  I assume that he means the ‘weak-kneed politicians’ have a bit of self-control as it pertains to what comes out of their mouth. Would he become one of those ‘weak-kneed politicians’ after assuming the presidency?

The constraints constitutionally embedded into the Office of the Presidency are incredibly important. They were debated by serious people and ratified in a democratic manner. These constraints are just as the important as the constraints public opinion imposes upon the president. The need to constrain political behavior due to the necessity of reelection and historical legacy reduces the negative outcomes associated with the boisterous overbearing personalities that are uninhibited by their wealth and status in public life. As Neustadt said, the presidency is no place for amateurs. They must be able to bargain if they are to be successful. Presidents have to be serious people with serious approaches to public problems. They cannot be bloviating ignoramuses.

I think the moral of the story is that ELECTIONS MATTER!

 

P.S. 

I thought it might be fun to think about his presidency in a less serious way.

I think that vetting female candidates for office to be appointed to the Administration or Judiciary, which would be a rare occurrence, would only take place after the potential candidate has secured a top three placement in a Miss America Type Pageant. In fact, the rules for women in a Trump Administration will be the same as the rules for the Miss America Pageant.

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*The image is taken from Wikimedia Commons, a “media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content.” The photograph is of Republican Presidential Candidate, Donald Trump. The Photo was taken by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. The file can be found here.

Midterm Election Night Analysis

Below you will find some of the comments I sent to the media, who asked for them, after the 2014 Midterm Elections in the U.S. and in West Virginia particularly.

What surprised you about the results? (National Elections)

Honestly, I am not really surprised by the overall results of the election. It is not surprising that the Republicans kept their majority in the House of Representatives. Also, given the election models I have seen, it is highly likely that the Republicans will take control of the Senate as well. In fact, every president since Harry Truman (1946) has lost same party seats in the House of Representatives, with two exceptions, 1998 and 2002. In 1998, we can speculate that the strength of the economy and President Clinton’s high popularity had the most to do with the net gain of 4 House seats. In 2002, we can, again, speculate that President Bush’s high approval ratings and the proximity to 9/11 played a major role in the net gain of 8 House Seats. In terms of the Senate, the same is basically true as well. Most presidents have lost same party Senate seats in the midterm elections, especially when they are considered lame ducks. Bush gained two Senate seats in 2002, Reagan gained 1 in 1982, Nixon gained 2 in 1970, and Kennedy gained, I think, 3 1962. Every other president from Truman onward lost Senate Seats in the midterms.

This fundamental election reality can basically be explained by the economy and presidential popularity, which are often correlated. When presidents are popular and on the ballot themselves, they allow potential congresspersons to ride into Washington and the statehouses on their coattails. When the presidents are not very popular and not on the ballot, the opposing party is able to exploit this to their advantage. Thus, using the president’s unpopularity and policy priorities against the president’s party in the midterms, presidents often lose same party seats in both chambers of the Congress. Additionally, candidates can blame the incumbent president for, basically, all of the problems facing the electorate.

In terms of the WV races, again, I am not really surprised by the overall outcomes. Thinking about what I said earlier, President Obama is incredibly unpopular in West Virginia. As was the case in 2010, he lost the greatest amount of House of Representative seats in modern American history, more than any other president. In 2014, his approval rating is a little less than it was in 2010 this close to the election, which is not surprising for a lame duck president. Nevertheless, that will surely hurt the Democratic candidates in their bids for election. Pertaining to the economy, some of the most pertinent and important indicators are significantly better such as unemployment and overall economic growth. However, not everyone can feel those changes and thus do not think the economy is better or as good as it is for some individuals.

Who were the biggest winners? 

I am not sure who the biggest winners are in the election. However, I think it is safe to say that, potentially, the biggest loser in this election is West Virginia. In the last 4 years, WV has lost Senator Byrd, Senator Rockefeller, and Congressman Rahall, who had a combined 117 (80 years for Byrd and Rockefeller) years of service to West Virginia. Despite what one thinks of either of these three politicians and their political positions, they have brought an inestimable amount of money, jobs, and resources back to West Virginia, whether in the form of earmarks, funding formulae, or capital projects. All of that seniority, positions of power, and political influence will be gone from the Congress. Capito has some clout but much of that will not transfer from the House to the Senate. Those that represent WV in Congress are nowhere near as politically powerful as the three aforementioned. I think that there will be a change in the relationship between WV and the federal government after this election; WV will not have the political clout it has had for decades and will lose much of what it gets federally. This will obviously change as the elected grow into their positions. Granted, some will think this change in power is a very good thing, both politically and ideologically.

Who ran the best campaigns? 

I am not really sure how to answer this question. There are too many value judgments assumed in the terms. One could say that whomever won ran the best campaign. The truth of the matter is that nearly every campaign is negative. The reason being that it actually works, despite how much we do not like it. The negative approach to campaigning has been around since the beginning of the Republic. (In)Famously, Thomas Jefferson’s campaign called John Adams a, “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Which, in turn, the Adams campaign responded by saying that Jefferson was, “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” Negative campaigning is here to stay.

Secondly, every campaign ad in WV seemed to consist of who was more like President Obama and how that is bad. Each ad was more about the fear of what the other candidate would do, how they would do it like Obama, and the reasons for why you should not vote for that person. Each person ignored the good that has been done by some of Obama’s policies, particularly how the uninsured rate dropped from 17% to about 6.5%, as one example. Aside from that, neither candidate really did a good job of explaining what they would do in Washington. Nevertheless, this is typical. It is easier for a candidate to run against something than for something, as it is more difficult to hold them accountable that way.

How the Jenkins/Rahall race was run, challenger vs. long-standing incumbent?

I think each side of the campaign, particularly Congressman Rahall, would like everyone to think that the race was dominated by outside interests and ‘dark’ money. Granted, this is the most expensive campaign to date. The estimates are as high as $3.6 billion spent on every midterm race in this election. Some estimates state that half of all spending in the WV-3rd District, however, are independent expenditures. So, there is some truth to his claim. We will not fully know, however, because after the Citizen’s United Supreme Court case, many of the contributions and expenditures do not have to be disclosed.

However, Rahall has raised about $1 million dollars more than Jenkins and he has the incumbent advantage. House races are a little more complicated to predict. Nevertheless, the incumbent advantage for House members typically means that Rahall has about a 90% chance of holding onto his House seat. Having said that, now that WV is rapidly shifting from a blue state to a red state, there is no way that Rahall’s victory is that secure. The very fact that he engaged in the debate with Jenkins this year indicates that his internal numbers show that he would possible lose this race. Granted, the early voting for his district showed a strong turn out for the Democrats, which are often more likely to vote early. However, it does not mean that they all will vote for him. As most predictions have the 3rd WV congressional district leaning Republican.

As it pertains to the Tennant and Capito Senate campaign, I am both really surprised and not really surprised at the same time. Given that most individuals vote according to their registered party, it is odd that Tennant was not able to win this election. Democrats outnumber Republicans as registered voters well over 20%. Moreover, almost 18% of registered voters in WV are independents. We have to assume that many of those independents lean democratic and would typically vote democratic. This is somewhat surprising that Tennant could not secure a victory with such an advantage.

However, it is not that surprising when you factor in how unpopular President Obama is here, almost 63% of persons polled think he is not doing a good job as president. Capito’s campaign strategy mostly hinged on connecting Tennant to Obama, making their policy actions tantamount—eradicating the Democratic advantage. Moreover, most of the predictive analytics I have seen on the WV Senate race gives Tennant only a 2% chance of beating Capito. It does not mean she cannot win; however, it means that the chances of her winning are seriously diminished and improbable. This is not surprising given the fact that Capito outraised Tennant by nearly $4 million. Typically, not always, but mostly whoever raises the most amount of money for a Senate campaign wins that campaign.

Having said that, WV has elected its first female Senator, which could be a sign of things to come for some of the gender inequality in our elected positions. Some would welcome this trend given that WV has only 5% of its elected state and national figures as women. Although that number will not change that much given that Capito is simply going from the House to the Senate and her House seat will be replaced by a male. It could signal a shift in who runs for office in WV.

What does this election say about voters looking to 2016? 

Secondly, I think that it is important to note that this is WV’s first Republican Senator since 1956, which is probably a sign of things to come for WV. WV will most likely move from a solidly Democratic state to a Republican state in the upcoming years. Some of this will depend on the major party candidates for president in 2016. For instance, Hilary Clinton does quite well in WV as did her husband. If she is the candidate, we could possibly see a Democratic renewal of state and national seats as they ride her coattails to victory (assuming of course she runs and wins).

As the famous quote goes, “all politics are local.” Which, to me, means that this midterm election does not say much about how things will go nationally in 2016. It is, without a doubt, too early to tell. There is no mandate and there certainly is no 2016 mandate. If anything, it shows that those who decided to vote in WV, which I assume will be around 30% of eligible voters, simply did not like Obama and connected the state’s Democrats to him despite their desperate attempts to separate themselves from him and his policies.

Thank you for your time. I hope this helps.

I hope all is well,

Damien

A response to Professor Elaine Phillips “A Biblical Lens on Same-Gender Sexual Activity”

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I write this in response to Gordon College’s Professor Elaine Phillips’ “A Biblical Lens on Same-Gender Sexual Activity” essay sent to the Gordon College Community. First, I would like to say that I am highly disappointed and expected something much more intellectually honest from a faculty member at Gordon College. This is nothing more than a proof-texted explanation of sexuality and the Bible. It advances an agenda and does nothing to exegetically seek the truth. Especially, her concluding arguments about the Church being different and the “light” in “darkness” is so highly offensive and dehumanizing. The heteronormative conglomeration of evangelical Christians is not the “light” and the inappropriately persecuted homosexual Christians are certainly not the “darkness” that must see and follow the light. That type of “peculiar” people and thinking is the antithesis of true Christianity.

Her tone is such that she does not have any say in how she interprets the scripture, as if they are so clear in their message and we as the church are bound by a divine revelation that is presented to all. The very fact that Dr. Elaine Phillips is allowed to even talk during chapel or about the bible is a reinterpretation of Paul’s direction for women to be completely silent on such matters and receive their instruction from their husbands.

To begin a biblical explanation of human sexuality with the discussion of Adam and Eve their command to multiply is egregious. It completely neglects the reality that even some heterosexually oriented couples cannot procreate. Are we to read that then they cannot enter into the sacrament of marriage because of their inability to procreate? Her interpretation says yes.

Secondly, she moves to a discussion, with coded language of male and female, of cleaving to one another and becoming one flesh in the sacrament of marriage. She quotes, “At the beginning, the Creator made them male and female…“ She seems to be making the argument that the souls of men and women are ontologically different; there is absolutely no basis for this in the scripture. Conveniently, her argument completely ignores Paul’s discussion of this in Galatians wherein he says, “there is no longer Jew nor Greek, no longer male nor female, for we are all one in Christ.” So then, cannot two males become one flesh? Two women?

Next, she turns to specific passages of scripture with which one could seriously take issue. She appears to use these to determine the Bible’s message to the Church about homosexuality, given the incomplete and isolated mentions of homosexuality, however, I think that one would find it difficult to argue that there is consistent opposition to homosexuality in the Bible, in any modern sense of the word.

In fact, I would argue that the modern concept of homosexuality is only in the Bible twice, both times it is presented positively: David and Jonathan’s relationship and Jesus and the Beloved Disciple’s relationship. Nowhere is there specific mandates about not participating in a loving, committed relationship with someone of the same genitalia.

It seems as though she picks and chooses the texts from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) that she thinks will justify her positions biblically. The first quoted proof-text comes from Sodom, in Genesis 19:1-11. Most Christians know the story. The townspeople wanted to rape Lot’s male visitors and eventually G-d destroyed the city. Aside from the fact that most Orthodox fail to even discuss the fact that Lot, the person G-d was willing to save, was all too willing to pimp/prostitute his underage daughters to an angry mob, who would have no doubt gang-raped them.

The church wants to use this story as justification for condemning homosexuality. Would it not be more appropriate to see this story in relation to power and not homosexuality? Nowhere does the text mention that G-d destroyed the city because two people, who love each other, are committed to one another in a sexual relationship. The story does not address a same-sex relationship, but rather it is about a group of people who want to force a sexual act on an unwilling participant. I wonder if the moral of the story we are supposed to take away is one that states that G-d will not tolerate the dehumanization of the minority (male visitors) by the majority (angry mob) rather than a condemnation of homosexuality?

She then moves to the Holiness Code in Leviticus. 18:22 – 20:13. The text says, “Do not lie with a man as one does with a woman.” The underlying importance of this “Holiness code” is the fact that the Hebrews were trying to separate themselves from the surrounding Canaanites. This is the time when they were “becoming” the chosen people of G-d. The surrounding cultures were very similar and many participated in homosexuality; it was an acceptable practice. It seems to me that the “chosen people of G-d” were simply trying to change their behavior as a way of looking different than everyone else. Aside from that, we must pay attention to the context and read the entire holiness code to make any sense of this passage.

Two passages earlier we are commanded not to have sex with a woman while she is menstruating. Both of these claims have the same force of holiness. In fact, men were supposed to wait seven days afterwards before having sex, mostly because the women were considered ritually unclean and not allowed in the camp during menstruation and seven days afterwards. I think it is difficult to choose one of these commandments to make Christians follow and not the other. The Church needs to either mandate both or neither one of them. Rather, should we not look at this passage as something that served its purpose for that time and it is no longer socially or theologically relevant to Orthodoxy? This is to say nothing of the parts of the holiness code like not eating shellfish or not cutting specific parts of your hair. How can we as Christians pick some of the holiness code and not the others? If you respond by saying that Peter had a revelation and changed the eating habits of the holiness code, please do not forget that Paul had a revelation that he explained to us as well, “there is no longer Jew nor Greek, no longer male nor female, for we are all one in Christ.”

In the New Testament, there are primarily three instances of Scripture that are used to justify the condemnation of homosexuality by the Church. The first consists of Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 1:26-27, wherein he discusses the “unnatural” and “shameful lusts” of the Romans. During the First Century, there was a practice that many participated in called pederasty. In Greek culture, it was an honorable and accepted practice that society valued very highly. Basically, it was a teaching mechanism used to educate boys—it included an erotic component wherein the men had sex with the boys. It included a specific etiquette and rules from which the participants could not deviate. Those who did deviate from the rules and etiquette were typically outcasts.

The Greek word Paul uses here to discuss those who have violated the rules is the same word used in other Greek texts for this type of man. He uses the same words in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10  – arsenokoites (male prostitute) and malakoi (lack of Roman masculinity). Professor uses this word, but does not provide the appropriate historical context of the definition of the word. Paul could have used another, easier word but he chose this word. Could we not argue that this is the type of sex and “unnatural” relations about which Paul is talking? He is definitely not talking about two consenting adults in a committed relationship. Could we not see this request as an attempt to convince the Romans to stop violating the real rules of the game, and stop raping the children and stop resisting giving them the educative, spiritual element that they claimed pederasty provided–in a healthy, non-sexual way?

There is no doubt that Paul is aware of pederasty, particularly the stories in Homer’s The Iliad about Achilles and Patroclus.  The context of the passage, when understood in light of an uncommon word usage, indicates that Paul was referring to pederasty; this is seen in the fact that Paul spoke of “shameful lusts” and being given over to “unnatural” relations. I see the unnatural aspect to which Paul is referring (when seen in the context of the passage and interpreted in light of other extra-biblical sources that employ the same language) as the deviation that pederasty in particular fosters. In other words, Paul is not saying “stop having consenting-adult same-sex relations,” but rather he is saying “stop asserting your sexual dominance.” It seems to me that Paul was more concerned with the violations of the power differential than he was with the Greek’s cultural expression of same sex behavior.

I am not arguing that the Bible or the Apostle Paul is in favor or would ever support our understanding of homosexuality. I am simply saying that what we understand homosexuality to be is not in the Bible. Period! It has not been addressed substantively by the Church or the Bible. Therefore, should we not acknowledge that the Bible is unclear, at best, on what to make of same-sex behavior, particularly for a 21st century understanding of homosexuality? Would not doing so enable the Church to have a constructive dialogue with the LGBTQ community about their role and participation in our faith? This provides us with the perfect opportunity to see that with whom Christians have sexual relations does not dictate the path of or the destruction of our salvation, as it did not with David or Abraham.

What does seem to be a clear about the connection between the Bible and same sex behavior is that we should not see it as an abomination, but rather it presents a message about not exercising sexual power over others. To separate yourself from those that do, and be hospitable to the various peoples of G-d. I cannot help but find it ironic that this is exactly what Professor Phillips is doing. We try to exercise our heteronormative sexual power and authority over others, the exact thing that the Bible is clear about us not doing.

If Christianity does not change its approach to homosexuality, it risks becoming irrelevant just like the Pharisees. It is going to lose the opportunity to share the Gospel. I would like to see Gordon College participate in a constructive dialogue with the LGBTQ community rather than every conversation beginning with their non sequitur that participation in the faith is prohibited by those who are living in sin. If you claim to be a Christian in any form, you are in fact living in sin. Being a Christian is tantamount to being a sinner; the two are inseparable by definition.

 

Much of my explanation regarding the scriptures and how we should interpret them is taken directly from an article I wrote for the State of Formation.

“The Protected Faithful: Governmental Response to Religious Child Abuse”

CatholicChurchAbuseScandalGraffitiPortugal2011“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death.”

— Proverbs 23:13-14

 

Child abuse policy has been connected to many contentious issues in American politics, namely federal intervention in state affairs, parental prerogatives, and the rights of children. However, the relationship between child abuse policy and the constitutional mandates that Congress not establish a religion or prohibit its free exercise is particularly divisive. Religion has a consequential effect upon this recent discussion of child abuse policies.

When referring to its definitions and the statistics about its prevalence, according to Hopper (2009), the very notion of ‘child abuse’ is a controversial idea (Costin, Karger, & Stoesz, 1996). From the binding and attempted sacrificial slaying of Isaac by Abraham to the mauling of children by two bears at the request of Elijah to the mocking, lashing, and crucifixion of the ‘Son of God’ to the sexual misconduct by Catholic Priests in recent days, our communities of faith are riddled with imageries of child abuse. Society has nearly always seen acts of child abuse as a private matter to be handled by the family and the faith. Only the most rare, grotesque cases were considered by the state (Nelson, 1984). It is only in recent decades, however, that child abuse has come to be commonly known as a social problem necessitating government intervention.

The entrance of child abuse into the national agenda and its accepted status as a social problem by the U.S. government is more recent than one would imagine (Nelson, 1984). There was brief interest in child abuse as a social problem in the late 1800’s, particularly due to the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC) and the famous “Mary Ellen” case. Moreover, the creation of the U.S. Children’s Bureau was a step in securing child abuse in the social conscious of the U.S. (Nelson, 1984). The onslaught of war in the 20th century, however, forced national attention to child rights onto other programs, effectively ending all progress. Attention to child abuse was nearly forgotten until the notion of equitable treatment slowly gained national attention under the umbrella of ‘child welfare’ in the New Deal and Great Society legislative eras (Nelson, 1984).

Over the past few decades, laws and policies concerning children have increased and become more focused on the safety and well-being of children (Young, 2001). For instance, in 1974 the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) was enacted. The legislation effectively solidified child abuse as a national agenda item, dispersing $86 million dollars for research. CAPTA was intended to curb child abuse and offer reasonable actions for treatment. This public law allowed for grants to states if they had procedures in place for dealing with child abuse. CAPTA gave minimum definitions for child abuse that the states were to follow (Stoltzfus, 2009). This law was revised in the 1988 Child Abuse Prevention, Adoption and Family Services Act, and again in the 1996 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Amendments, and in the 2003 Keeping Children and Families Safe Act.

The federal government has determined minimum definitions of child abuse as a matter of federal law, most recently, in the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003. This legislation requires that states include minimum definitions of abuse in their statutes in order to receive federal monies, but the state may go further in how it defines child abuse.

However, the federal government has determined that definitions of abuse are not to be construed as a forceful mandate that prohibits religions from acting contrary to that religion’s proscriptions, particularly with regard to withholding medical treatment, offering spiritual prayer/healing as a means of healthcare, or neglecting to provide basic needs such as food (fasting) as well as engaging in corporal punishment. The federal law establishes a directive that permits the individual states to decide if they will allow for exemptions to the definitions of child abuse. Therefore, some state legislatures have enacted constitutional amendments that provide ‘religious’ exemptions to the definitions of child abuse. [1]

Ultimately, this project lays the groundwork for a more comprehensive book project that I am working on that discusses the interaction between religious expression and child abuse, particularly how and why Congress and the individual states assent to the idea that religious ideologies that are carried into practices are not understood as violating the federal or state enacted definitions of child abuse if and when the abuse occurs in accordance with the tenets of the religious faith, which could be argued essentially negates the importance of mitigating the child abuse this legislation intended to diminish.

There seems to be an ontological supposition that God’s law as dictated in religious texts has more authority than the law designed to protect children from abuse. The inclusion of religion into the discussion of child abuse policy creates a dramatic conflict of interests and alters child abuse policies and laws. The religious exemptions to U.S. child abuse policies create problems for children, their parents, and the states as well as the First Amendment. Completing this larger project would produce interesting results, given the importance of religion and politics in our political dialogue.

Governmental involvement in how parents introduce their children to religious tenets, disciplinary actions, and child-rearing practices is now predicated on the legal notion of parens patriae. This concept refers to the government’s legal ability to intervene on the behalf of a child when the parents are not comporting themselves responsibly or are acting neglectfully and/or abusively towards the child—according government statutes. It is common knowledge that the federal and state governments have consistently and progressively intervened. The parameters for this intervention are set by federal and state legislative mandates and they are extensive.

Conversely, freedom to practice one’s religion has been a perceived component of American life since the beginning of the Republic. Moreover, the metaphoric wall of separation between the church (religion) and the state Jefferson so masterfully spoke of is often considered a fundamental element of American government. However, a brief study of case law indubitably proves that the United States has clearly struggled to define its complicated relationship with religious expression. This intersection of religion and politics in American public life is so often wrought with images of walls, discussions of accommodation, and notions of neutrality as well as a common opinion that there exists a freedom to exercise that religion. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the freedom of religious expression and the notion of a ban on government-established religion are not without clarifications. The interconnected and conflicting ideas of religious expression, law, and government policy are the paradigmatic example of this struggle; the relationship between child abuse policy and the constitutional mandates that Congress not establish a religion or prohibit its free exercise is particularly divisive.

Understanding why Congress and many states have decided that ‘religious’ exemptions to child abuse are necessary and do not act contrary to its mitigation will become clear through the overall assessment of how the inclusion of religion into the policy discussion engenders a dramatic conflict of interests and alters child abuse policies and laws. There has not been a study with a comprehensive, empirical approach to how religion shapes child abuse policy. Such a study brings attention to an issue that is often overlooked by policy-makers and the general public. Therefore, the purpose of this research will explain why, how, and to what extent religion impacts federal and state child abuse laws and policies.

——————————————————————————————————————-

A more quantitative version of the aforementioned research will be presented at the Annual Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Conference in Indianapolis, IN in October 2014.

I also sort of wrote about this a while ago for the State of Formation while the scandal at Penn State was taking place.

[1] Currently, there are 30 states — the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam — that offer state constitutional amendments that allow parents to practice faith-based medical care for their children without threat of prosecution. Three of the states_, however, provide a specific exemption for members of the Christian Science movement. Of the 30 states, 16 provide for the medical intervention by the courts if the child’s condition warrants it (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2010).

An Open Letter to President Lindsay of Gordon College

D_Michael_Lindsay_portrait LGBT_Flag

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The recent ruling from the Supreme Court pertaining to the Hobby Lobby challenge to specific forms of birth control has caused quite a stir. The ruling was intended to be narrow in scope; however, anyone with basic political science training knows that incrementalism would open the door to further challenges and religious exemptions.

Therefore, I am compelled to write this after President Lindsay of Gordon College, my alma mater, provided his support to a letter that was sent to President Obama. In this letter, President Lindsay asked, by way of religious exemption, to be excluded from the mandate that federal contractors not discriminate in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation. Are individuals, workers, or employees completely reduced to their sexual behavior, which as anyone knows is such a small portion of that person’s life.

I sent a message to President Lindsay through twitter and received no response. Moreover, in a seriously cowardly move, he was ‘unavailable for comment‘ when the Boston Globe reached out to him. There are some arguments that people espouse that need to have a response, whether or not anyone ever hears or understands that response.

President Lindsay paints a masterful picture of a simple request for religious liberty, the common good, and national unity as the justification for his exemption from treating people with basic dignity. I guess they forgot to address, in the letter, the religious liberty of those whom they have already decided they aren’t going to hire. As we all know, excluding a minority group from basic civic life because of their rather normal behavior is the pinpoint of a society’s common good and national unity. I hope you caught the sarcasm there.

President Lindsay’s support for this exemption is so disconcerting for our country and our political discourse that we should all be concerned, not just as alumni of Gordon College but as citizens of the United States. This is not a small and isolated incident. This ‘exemption’ has the potential for lasting consequences and the path dependency of civil rights in America. This ‘religious’ exemption is not innocuous. This letter is not about a College’s decision to adhere to its ‘sincerely held religious belief,‘ but rather a decision to contribute to the solidification of discrimination policy or the destruction of progress.

Allowing discrimination on the basis of ‘sincerely held religious belief’ is so dangerous to the public good. The ‘sincerely held religious belief’ is not based on fact but rather belief. This is exactly what the Hobby Lobby case determined. This entity can completely believe that a form of contraception is an abortifacient despite the fact that science says it is not. There is no end to what can be sincerely held. For instance, the discrimination of African-Americans in the Mormon Church is a good example.

I completely understand the nuances of the important legal concepts of ‘compelling interests’ and ‘least restrictive means’ that play a crucial role in this discussion. However, when each religious organization gets to choose which beliefs it sincerely holds and can exercise over those subject to their belief and actions, I think the State not only has a compelling interest but a moral, ethical, and constitutional responsibility to intervene for the true common good.

What is this sincerely held belief that Gordon’s President thought would further the public good? Hetronormative sexual behavior? Is Gordon going to regulate the sexual behavior of every other employee and potential hiree? How would one do that? I guess there could be questions on the hiring application: Do you masterbate? When you climax, where do you put your seed (Genesis 38:9)?

Along those lines, what is ‘appropriate’ sexual behavior that does not violate religious expression? This is to say nothing of who’s religious expression?

How about in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 wherein Paul says that men control women’s bodies during sex and women control men’s bodies during sex or that neither can ‘deprive’ one another from sexual intercourse. Imagine the look on the face of the interviewee when asked this, “Have you asserted your biblically mandated sexual dominance over your partner?”

How about in Matthew 5:28 wherein the Gospel writer says that if men look after women with lustful intent that they have already committed adultery? Should Gordon College’s lustful college age men and women gouge out their eyes, as required by the next verse? In my experience, there would be many blind people at Gordon.

How about in 1 Timothy 1:10 wherein Paul completely equates lying with homosexuality? It is not sexual behavior but reiterates my point. Again, how about in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 wherein Paul again compares homosexuality to greed and thievery and drunkards. Once more in Galatians 5:19-21 he makes similar comparisons with anger and envy and jealousy. See my article at the State of Formation wherein I discuss how Paul is not really condemning homosexuality in the way that people think.

Is Gordon College going to enforce these beliefs? Or are they going to pick and chose which ones are more in line with what they want? Those that are spiritually convenient or politically expedient? Those that mobilize donors? The answer to these questions leave me to believe that Gordon College’s decision to just regulate the sexual behavior of the LGTBQ community is a decision on a political matter, despite what they said. If it is not a political choice then it is simply bad systematic theology, which completely undermines their entire mission statement. I definitely expected more from them. I know for a fact that my exegesis professors taught me to be more intellectually honest than that.

We, as a society, have encountered a similar situation during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Some business owners in the South maintained that they were able to refuse access to the services they provided. They argued that their private establishments were not subject to government intrusion or regulation. This approach allowed for a drastic and systematic discrimination and dehumanization of many African-Americans. They had legal precedent to do this in many of the states.

Congress purposefully and deliberately corrected this potential for discrimination. They justified their action by the Constitutional clause that enabled them to regulate commerce. Congress has the power and authority to force a small business owner to allow specific people to frequent their establishment. Congress, through the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare) has the power and authority to make Gordon College treat people equally. Gordon College definitely receives federal dollars and is therefore under the power and authority of Congress.

The Supreme Court confirmed this regulation and approach to ending discrimination by unanimous decision. They outlined the law in the case of Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S.  This case, under the umbrella of the ‘Commerce Clause,’ established the promise of civil rights to potentially marginalized American citizens. The current law and U.S. policy force those to act more civilly when they inappropriately and unjustifiably use their prejudices to discriminate against others. This action is not a mechanism of government intrusion but rather an instrument of equality with regard to our citizenry. The civil rights of the LGBT community are at stake.

Imagine the Civil Rights Act getting passed if businesses in the south asked for a ‘religious exemption’ to not hire African-Americans? Imagine if those in the southern establishment had a Supreme Court decision to justify their discrimination on the basis of religious belief?

President Lindsay does not represent every person that goes through Gordon College. I believe, as do many of my peers from Gordon College, there is a path to salvation for those who are LGTBQ — just as there is for every other human being in the world. I am simply saying that what we understand homosexuality to be now is not in the Bible. It has not been addressed substantively by the Church or the Bible. Therefore, should we not acknowledge that the Bible is unclear, at best, on what to make of same-sex behavior, particularly for a 21st century understanding of homosexuality? Would not doing so enable the Church to have a constructive dialogue? This provides us with the perfect opportunity to see that with whom Christians have sexual relations does not dictate the path of or the destruction of our salvation. It most certainly does not say that Christians can legally discriminate against LGTBQ community in hiring.

What does seem to be a clear about the connection between the Bible and same sex behavior is that we should not see it as an abomination, but rather it presents a message about not exercising sexual power over others. To separate yourself from those that do, and be hospitable to the various peoples of G-d.

Without such action, one has to ask where the discrimination ends? Can we justify nearly everything and anything as religious expression? So, now bakers are not going to bake cakes for gay weddings? Photographers are going to decided not to take pictures at gay weddings? Christian schools are not going to hire gays? What about the many gays that currently work there? Are you going to have an inquisition or witch hunt to find them and fire them? How about a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy? Are we able to frame our most disgusting and vile xenophobias as religious virtues and hope that the Court will find a First Amendment justification for our actions?

Thankfully, the State has successfully argued that it has a right to regulate religion and religious expression if it has a compelling interest in doing so, particularly when that expression is harmful to the civil rights of other citizens or if that expression is some action that the government would usually regulate (Employment Division v. Smith), like discrimination on the basis of intrinsic characteristics. Moreover, and most importantly, the Court has argued that the government is able to make a differentiation between the ‘belief’ of a religion and the ‘action’ of the religion.

President Lindsay and Gordon College are constitutionally protected in their belief that homosexuality is contrary to G-d and the Bible, however, exegetically weak and anachronistically ignorant it may be. However, they should not be permitted to act on that belief and take away the civil rights of the LGBT community in their hiring practices. The minority rights of the LGBT community must be protected if we are to exemplify, in society, the principles our Constitution and our Christian faith embodies. We cannot let the offensive and anti-Biblical religious views of some dictate.

 

——- Portions of this article appeared on this blog in 2012 and at http://www.stateofformation.org/2012/10/religion-gays-and-a-nice-little-b-and-b/

and at

http://www.stateofformation.org/2012/03/homosexuality-a-microcosmic-electronic-post-to-a-virtual-wittenberg-church-door/

 

Images are taken from Wikimedia Commons, a “media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content.”

The images are of LGTB Flag by Sparrov and D Michael Lindsay.

Have you bought my new book? “Economic Actors and Presidential Leadership”

EconomicActorsLITHO

ECONOMIC ACTORS, ECONOMIC BEHAVIORS, AND PRESIDENTIAL LEADERSHIP 

THE CONSTRAINED EFFECTS OF RHETORIC 

BY C. DAMIEN ARTHUR 

https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780739187838

For a discount on the book, click here – Arthur flyer

ABOUT THE BOOK 

There is considerable disagreement about whether the U.S. president has a direct and measurable influence over the economy. The analysis presented in Economic Actors, Economic Behaviors, and Presidential Leadership: The Constrained Effects of Rhetoric suggests that while presidents have increased their rhetoric regarding the economy, they have not had much success in shaping it. Considering this research, Arthur argues that the president’s decision to address the economy so often must stem from a symbolic placation or institutional necessity that is intended to comfort constituencies or somehow garner electoral advocacy from the party’s base. No other viable explanation exists given the lack of results presidents obtain from discussing the economy and their persistent determination to do so. This discrepancy suggests that presidential rhetoric on the economy is, at best, a tool used to appear concerned to everyone and toe the party-line to their base. Arthur presents an overview of economic rhetoric from the presidential office that will be of interest to scholars of the economy and political communication.

 

Reviews

 “Using the president’s rhetoric on the national economy as an analytic wedge, this nicely written study adds to our understanding of the role presidential rhetoric plays—and fails to play—in influencing policy making and policy makers. C. Damien Arthur’s book will be of particular interest to students and scholars with an interest in economic policy, presidential rhetoric, and the ways in which they intersect.”

—Mary E. Stuckey, Georgia State University

“C. Damien Arthur’s Economic Actors, Economic Behaviors, and Presidential Leadership takes a skeptical and data-driven look at a major question for scholars of the presidency: does presidential rhetoric matter, and if so, how? The book is sure to be of interest to students of presidential rhetoric.”

—Thomas W. Benson, Pennsylvania State University

 

About the Author

C. Damien Arthur is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at West Virginia State University, a Public Land-Grant and Historically Black University (HBCU). His research has focused upon, primarily, presidential rhetoric in relation to salient policies such as economics, institutional interaction, and immigration as well as religion. His most recent work has been published in Presidential Studies Quarterly and Sociological Spectrum.

He completed a Ph.D. in Political Science at West Virginia University. He has an M.A. in American Public Policy and an M.P.A. in Public Administration from West Virginia University. He also completed an M.T.S. in Religion, Culture, and Personality at Boston University’s School of Theology, magna cum laude. He received a B.A. in Theological Studies from Gordon College in Wenham, MA.